Woodward, K.  (2007) ‘On and Off the Pitch.  Diversity policies and transforming identities?’, In Cultural Studies (21) 4-5: 758-78.

[This is a piece that examines the impact of moves towards using sport to encourage policies of cultural diversity and equality.  Sport has a potential, and there has been some interesting work in some areas, but in most cases particular discourses develop to turn those policies into more safe and domesticated options –the utilitarian and the charitable options.  Woodward claims to have based this analysis on looking at football club websites and doing some interviews, but the empirical data was barely used: instead, there should be seen as an exercise in the deployment of classic cultural studies perspectives, including gramscian and foucaltian ones].

Sport has long been the target of various government policies, starting from the idea of football fans as dangerous hooligans who needed to be regulated.  The most dangerous fans were often white working class males.  This particular view was reproduced in a number of ways including some classic media distinctions between authentic fans and hooligans.  By the end of the 20th century, football was seen more in terms of promoting diversity social inclusion and community cohesion.

Diversity policies in sport grew from a more general concern to outlaw particular kinds of disability such as the various discrimination acts.  This legislation introduced the possibility of reworking identities through a discourse  [and the basic steps of legislation are outlined PP. 760, 761, PAT 10 on pages 763-5].  For most sports clubs, the emphasis that has been taken up most readily is the one on ‘race’ and ethnic diversity, while sexual equality has been less prominent.  Policies have been incorporated into ‘what…  Rose calls the “practical rationalities”’ (761).  These offer the prospect of transforming identities, but also managing them.  Diversity policies have produced a number of confusing and sometimes contradictory implications, ranging from the need to obey new legislation, to new languages which have to be managed.  A particular tension is between abolishing discrimination and actively promoting multiculturalism, and between incorporation as opposed to more critical and revolutionary approaches [Stuart Hall is cited here].

Terms like community offer particular difficulties for sports clubs.  There can be excessive localism, for example, strong local rivalries, and a tension between relating to the immediate community, the supporters who live nearest to the club, and the wider notions of diversity and citizenship.  There is some concern in sport to offer very visible examples of support for diversity, including prominent football celebrities wearing anti racist insignia.  Apparently, some of the websites reflects this view as well.

The government has also tried to make the celebration of diversity as part of its neighbourhood renewal and social cohesion programmes, especially in PAT 10.  Government bodies have insisted that some acknowledgment of these priorities is given in any attempts to gain access to resources for funding.  At the same time, the government wants to pursue sporting excellence, leading to the usual hope that the two policies can be reconciled, as when a wider pool of talent is recruited which also helps the identification of talented players. This legislation has provided practical problems in terms of relating to particular kinds of community.  Another strand of government policy refers to the promotion of healthy and fit bodies, an example of ‘the biopolitics which permits the state to invade the private space of the domestic and the corporeal’ (765) [which squeezes in a bit of Foucault].  Game Plan is one of the major documents that is analysed here.  Government intervention is also limited by a neo liberal view that private companies and individuals are responsible for implementing policies, while the government stresses monitoring and external evaluation – this encourages the utilitarian approach discussed below.  [In other words, government policy is vague confusing and contradictory, which invites more practical and limited discourses to make sense of it, and thereby to include other particular interests].

Football clubs are commercial enterprises, but they also have considerable social and personal significance.  They offer spectacles of the visual.  Woodward wants to see the relation between club and individual supporter as a classic example of Althusser’s interpellation of the subject.  Of course, sometimes this process does not work, as in tensions between fans and businessmen, or among those who are differently affected by policies of diversity.

The web sites of many of the big clubs are run by the same company, and thus tend to look rather similar.  Charlton is an exception here, and has actually long promoted diversity (and also takes it much further, into policies about equal rights and respect, and into offering facilities for members of the community that are not even necessarily football related).  On the websites, diversity most nearly always refers to ‘race’, with fewer references to sexuality.  Other diversity issues are often included under the headings of ‘community’ or sometimes ‘fans’.  ‘It is apparent that diversity is not the prime concern of the websites’ (768).  There seemed to be routine mechanisms to implement diversity policies, such as community football projects, or the display of photographs of players wearing anti racist T-hirts.  Gender is nowhere near as prominent, and women are still often referred to as  girls or ladies ‘which reveals the specific genealogy of women’s inclusion in sport’ (768).  Women fans are sometimes included under the community heading.  Women employees of clubs do not figure. 

Anti racism is often linked to formal equality and its practices, as in employment legislation.  Few people interviewed recognised the rationale in PAT 10.  Most people were aware of the need to have a policy in order to access funding, or more specifically, how racism might be used as a way to involve the police in managing supporters.  Many players do charity work, although not always with a great deal of enthusiasm.  A utilitarian approach is often seen as a necessary gesture towards political correctness.  Overall, a utilitarian and paternalistic stance is a common way to manage discourses associated with diversity.

Promoting diversity does have the possibility of changing identities for many football fans, especially those who are white men.  Black players and women employees do help, although there are still few Asian players, and women’s teams are marginalised.  However discourses of utilitarianism, charity and human rights are less challenging, and more likely to lead to accommodation.  Purely visual depictions of diversity, and notions of community that ignore the actual local community are more likely to figure on things like club websites.  There is a strong emphasis on compliance with legal and policy demands for diversity, in order to access resources.  Charitable involvement in communities can become paternalism, especially towards women or ‘the less fortunate’ (772).

A human rights political discourse offers the best opportunity for changes in identification.  Charlton Athletic represent good practice here.  At least human rights discourses bring to light issues of identity and otherness and can challenge assumptions.  Charlton seems to demonstrate genuine commitment in its activities and programmes, for example, and have openly confronted racism.  They also offer genuine facilities to the community, such as access to their radio stations.

Overall, football is a promising site to promote diversity, but there is no smooth or easy option.  The ‘neo liberal discourse of diversity’ (774) is vulnerable to recuperation.  Promoting diversity has now become much more routine, although there is no guarantee that new identities will be formed.  Legislative and policing demands, together with requirements to fulfil funding applications are still the major determinants.  Community cohesion is likely to be dominated by charitable or paternalistic initiatives, and can be compromised and limited, for example in building up particular players as local celebrities.  Thus ‘Diversity policies…  are appropriated and understood in different and sometimes contradictory ways…  Regulatory practices…  are not always successful (775).  Resistance might not be explicit, but can take the form of an accommodation or settlement [a bad thing for gramscians].  There are also interesting absences and silences, about gender, for example or Asian players, or gay players.  Even where there is some acknowledgment of the need for gender inclusion, it is mostly referring to women, and they are seen as another example of excluded minorities.

However, at least diversity has been made the subject of discourses, and a space for renegotiation of identities in football has been opened up.

key concepts