Neil Ward is Chief Executive of the Welsh Football Trust (WFT), the FAW’s registered charity set up in 1996 to encourage more people – males and female – of all ages to play football.
It is vital for us that we are able to grow the game of football in Wales and that we can cement our place as the number one participation sport.
Football should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances or background. That is why we are fully supportive of the work Sport Wales and Stonewall Cymru have done to raise awareness of the issues being faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals wanting to participate in sport.
We have made some excellent headway recently by setting up different projects and programmes to encourage more people to play football.
Women and girls and disability football has become a particular focus. There has been successful growth in participation where we have seen a 45% (women and girls) and 42% (disability) growth in registered participants respectively since 2008.
Recently we played our first ever international game for people with learning disabilities, while it is imperative we capitalise on the opportunities to get more women and girls involved in football through the Women’s UEFA under 19’s championships being held in Wales next year.
This is the first major tournament on our doorstep and will give us a platform to put in place a lasting legacy to grow the game and get more people participating, coaching and volunteering. A particular focus will be provision for age groups at under 10 and under 8 age-groups.
The LGB research has highlighted a significant potential demand for participation in team sports and it is our responsibility to ensure that those who want to play feel comfortable to get involved in a local club.
The FAW’s ‘Behind the Line Behind the Team’ campaign – while not being a direct response to the research issues – is one way we are already looking at improving the environment at football clubs, both on the pitch and on the sidelines. We want everyone to enjoy being involved in the game of football and the campaign includes a safeguarding policy that we feel is increasingly important in today’s society, which is highlighted by this report.
There is much work to be done but I feel we are moving in the right direction.
The ‘banter’ highlighted by those questioned for this research is not something that is limited to football and is an issue for society. But we realise the responsibility we have because football has a reach into our communities that means we can highlight the issues more prominently.
I wouldn’t want anyone to be put off getting involved in football because of poor behaviour they see or perceive to be a normal part of the game.
There is no doubt we need more role models as they can help us more than anyone with the messages we are trying to get across. Professional footballers have a unique platform to talk to and communicate with the public. But I also think that this cannot be forced onto individuals to come out and speak openly if they are not comfortable in doing so.
I agree that administrators and club officials must be supported to understand the perception that some people might have about their club or the culture that might exist. Clubs exist to serve their members and the local community so it is important to lead by example and show that they are welcoming to people from all walks of life.
Finally, I just want to go back to our work on tackling work on those traditionally more excluded from football. The report highlights the pigeon holing of males and females into sports like football and rugby for boys and netball and hockey for girls.
I believe anyone still nurturing these stereotypes is well behind the times.
I still come across instances where school sport is governed by the interests of the PE staff, which should not be allowed to happen.
If anything, this report is yet another piece of evidence pointing towards the need to listen to pupils and provide them with the opportunities and environment so they take part in the sports they enjoy and want to try out.
If we don’t do this we risk losing them for good.