Football fan or not, last night’s Euro 2020 qualifier England match against Bulgaria in Sofia was certainly uncomfortable viewing, and not for the reason England supporters might expect. The England team were subjected to racist abuse during the match.
While the question on many people’s lips might be, why has it taken so long for the FA1, UEFA2 or a Team Manager to take direct remedial action, we should be at least thankful that England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, took such a public stand, raising awareness of the reality of the Equality Diversity & Inclusion debate. In the UK, the Race Relations Act came into force in 1976, not so-closely followed by the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995; with both Acts being replaced in October 2010 with the all-encompassing Equality Act. The FA has acknowledged that it has been struggling to address the kind of abuse inflicted on players that was witnessed last night; a challenge which faces all business leaders or people in positions of responsibility.
If there was any doubt (surely not!) about the responsibility and consequence of embracing the principles of equality and diversity in the workplace – whether that’s in the context of the football pitch or within organisations, we should pause for thought and consider the impact of Gareth Southgate’s actions on his team and the wider connected community. When we consider the definition of strong leadership it is the values and behaviours that are the most demonstrable attributes, with integrity and authenticity at the top of the list; both of which were clearly on display.
And if anyone still questions the validity of these values,
we need only to look at the impact of Southgate’s behaviours.
While there is still evidence that some leaders might be guilty of simply paying lip-service to the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion; in truth, until we take positive action to reinforce, live and breathe those principles, it means nothing. Southgate briefed his squad about UEFAs 3 step protocol to tackle racism before the match, with the first step being invoked just 28 minutes into the game.
As a role model, Southgate clearly displayed the impact of his behaviours as an authentic leader; engendering the loyalty of his team who know without question that he supports them fully, the wider community who respect him for his integrity and resolve in refusing to accept inequality and discriminating behaviour and the fostering of trust among all stakeholders. It seemed fitting that the match ended with a 6-0 win for England.
Leadership – Develop the 5 creative competencies you need to succeed
1The FA is England’s Football Association, 2UEFA is the Union of European Football Association