Sophie Cook Interview: Part Three

Today, 29th November, marks the charity Stonewall's national day to get people wearing their Rainbow Laces as a mark of support for the LGBT community around sport. To celebrate, you can read the final part of our interview with Sophie Cook.

What’s the responsibility of the FA and County FAs to promote diversity and inclusion in football?

It’s partly about communication: communicating the fact that we are inclusive. Partly it’s about education. Wherever there are opportunities, using good news stories, highlighting things. I know that every time I speak somewhere, for a lot of people in the audience it’s the first time they’ve met a trans person and I hope that when they leave, they’ll think differently.

And like I say, that zero tolerance to abuse- that’s really important. And that zero tolerance runs through every part of the game- not just in the stands but in systematic and organisational abuse- sometimes it’s about rules. Not rules that need bringing in, but rules that need throwing away, because there is bias and discrimination within certain rules within various organisations, and they need to be looked at.

Last Sunday I was invited to speak at Lewes FC who were the first semi-pro club in the world to pay the women’s club and the men’s club the same. The interesting thing there is that they are going for a cultural change. They are giving the men’s and the women’s teams the same stature within the club, so they train together and if the chairman gets 25 passes for the gym for the men, the women also get 25. All of the players, no matter what their gender, are treated exactly the same. It seems to be driven by everyone I met there - it’s a community owned club and the way they look at the structure was really refreshing and something I’d like to see elsewhere.

Is that cultural change likely to be driven from the grassroots up, or from the top down?

I think a lot of these things happen from grassroots up. I ran in the General Election this year for Labour, and I saw it in grassroots movements there too. Society has become very top-heavy in sports and in general. What we can do rather than wait for structural change and change at the top, is actually drive change from the bottom.

Club like Lewes are driving change, and by providing a positive example, other people will see it and go, “Well actually, that’s an idea”. I think the grassroots is very often overlooked in its ability to change things. When you look at this country, there must be millions of people involved at the grassroots level of football. That many people, if they have a voice, can change things. It’s important that people do try and change both from within and from the grassroots up and get involved in advisory groups at county FAs and the FA.

From a grassroots level, what does the game need to do to support people who are coming out?

I speak at lots of massive corporations and companies, and they all have folders for Equality and Diversity policies and all that. You don’t need any of that, you just need two words: Respect Everyone. If we all went through our lives respecting everyone, you don’t need rules. Everything needs to start from those two words.

At a grassroots level it’s really important that organisations look inclusive before someone comes out. The reason why I was so scared in coming out in football is that no one else has done it before and I had no idea of how I would be received, so it’s really important that even before organisations have someone that comes out, they’re given the image that you will be welcomed.

Things like supporting rainbow laces, supporting Kick It Out and Football v Homophobia. All of these things send out a message. Little things like football clubs changing their twitter profile pictures for Rainbow Laces, putting a rainbow flag in the background of the club crest. It goes a long way.

The other thing is having a zero tolerance to bigotry. Everywhere we need to stamp down on it. People look at football and say that football is homophobic, racist, transphobic, all of these other things. Of course people with these views exist within football, because they exist within society, and football reflects society. Until we can stamp out those views everywhere, they will still exist in football.

The interesting thing is that over 50% of the hate crimes reported through this app are from witnesses, not by victims. That’s the important thing to remember: if we see a hate crime or hate speech, it isn’t down to the victim to do all the reporting, because that person is vulnerable and under attack. It’s up to all of us to stand up and report it: report it so stewards, to the management of the club, and turn around to the people who are doing it and say “No.”

A lot of the time people don’t feel comfortable turning around and confronting the abuser personally. But always feel comfortable reporting it to someone. And that’s another thing; organisations need to make sure that people feel comfortable reporting it. Because until we all stand up to this bigotry, it will exist. I believe that bad things happen when good people fail to act. We’ve got to stand up and turn around and say no.

Football has moved on to such an extent that if people saw racist abuse in the stands or at a grassroots level, they would call it out. We haven’t quite got there yet with homophobic or transphobic abuse.

Make sure you catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of our interview with Sophie, where she talks about coming out, and the chance of gay or trans players at the top level in football.

For more on Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, head to their website for all the info.

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