Emma Hayes has called for all clubs to address a lack of equality in the game in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal engulfing football in recent weeks.
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Her first managerial appointment was at Chelsea, where she has led the club to four consecutive FA Cup finals, including last season’s triumph over Manchester City, and took the team to a record 21-game unbeaten run at the start of the current season.
But following the announcement of England’s gay players and former Three Lions striker David Beckham’s support for an independent commission set up to investigate child abuse in the game, Hayes said teams needed to reflect all sections of society.
“I’ve wanted to be a part of making football better ever since I was a child, so I was shocked when I heard about child sexual abuse in football,” the Chelsea Ladies boss told the Guardian. “We don’t have to wait for the government, a commission or to introduce quotas or more women in positions of leadership to address the issue. Clubs want to do it. They’ve spent a lot of time reviewing their practices in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
“There’s a bit of chicken and egg now, the clubs will decide what sort of clubs they want to be, and then we’ll talk about how we can deliver that. The most important thing is that they come through and they do what they say they’re going to do. Because clubs have to hold their hand up and say: ‘We want to create an environment where all kids can feel safe.’ I’m not a government person, I’m not a football official, so it doesn’t concern me if I have to make this argument with people within my own organisation. But a lot of people aren’t equipped to handle it.
“I got as far as being a hate figure, then I got to being a person whose ideals are respected by a great cross-section of the footballing community. I think if we were all prepared to speak up about what we thought was a problem, then we’d get where we need to be.”
The former Arsenal, Luton and Chelsea striker Shep Gordon, who took his own life aged 50, was accused of sexually abusing boys he met as a coach in the 1970s and 1980s. Another football coach from the same era has been charged by police with offences against a young boy at Blackpool in the 1980s. The cases – but not all of them – are among the 92 cases of alleged abuse that have been referred to the Football Association and the Crown Prosecution Service.
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At the central hub of the England’s elite elite development squad, a 23-strong independent board are under the chairmanship of the former England captain Mark Jenkins. Instead of a sex and racism quota, the team manager in the women’s set-up was told to appoint one woman to the list and at least two black or ethnic minority members of staff.
“If the need is there to implement a women’s quota or a minimum of three goals from ethnic minorities, we will be doing that,” Hayes said. “There’s no reason why you can’t have the same as men – or just as good, I’m not even interested in quotas, I’m interested in producing the best players and giving everyone the opportunity. If there was a forum to discuss and discuss what the gender balance is within the board then we would do that.”
Sunderland have just announced the establishment of a commission to explore issues relating to child abuse. It was formed in response to calls from the Football Association for clubs to ask their fans for advice on how to best provide a safe environment for fans while safeguarding against potential danger.
“It’s not just players or athletes and it’s also supporters,” Hayes said. “So everyone has to reflect society on that – as individual teams and individuals, if we want to be places where all kids can feel safe and secure then we’re going to have to be OK with some things and get on with it.”