The EFL is committed to promoting diversity and providing equal opportunities for all, with the aim of creating a more inclusive environment.
To further develop processes and procedures, as well as continuing the spread of awareness, a new partnership with Muslim Chaplains in Sport (MCS) has been established ahead of the 2022/23 season.
Clubs will have the opportunity to invite a chaplain to visit for free and discuss any issues in a safe space, while a range of additional educational services will also be made available.
The EFL’s Head of EDI, David McArdle, says: “It’s vital that we ensure our Clubs are educated and have an understanding of how best to support their players and staff, so that they can provide a suitable and correct environment for everyone within the Club.
“Working with Muslim Chaplains in Sport will allow the EFL to ensure our Clubs have access to expert knowledge and experience, who can advise in potential changes to the environment, as well as offer support to players.
“The exciting partnership is one of a number of new education provisions and partnerships that the EFL will provide to our Clubs to ensure the EFL and our Clubs can be reflective and representative of the communities which they serve.”
MCS have provided informative workshops to EFL Clubs, particularly at Academy level, since 2018 via the Life Skills programme that is delivered by the EFL’s education partner, League Football Education (LFE).
Ismail Bhamji, MCS Managing Director, adds: “This partnership is huge for professional football as this is the first of its kind and has never been introduced before.
“This goes to show the impact we’ve already jointly been able to make via the education programmes at Clubs. I believe it is the acceptance and success of our workshops which has encouraged and supported the idea of establishing chaplaincy at every EFL Club from the 2022/23 season.
“Now that this is available, I am confident more and more Muslim players and staff will be happy to discuss any issues or ideas with us and the Club in confidence.”
The work of MCS in football so far has fallen into two categories – education, player care and welfare, and chaplaincy.
Topics covered in their Life Skills sessions include an introduction to Islam, Islamic cultural awareness, prayer guidance, halal dietary requirements, Ramadan awareness, guidance for host families and British cultural awareness for new incoming players.
Meanwhile, the chaplaincy work offers Muslim players and staff a support mechanism, which deals with confidential support and pastoral care that can only be dealt with by professional, qualified and expert people.
Bhamji continues: “Our aim is to make football accessible and a safe place for Muslim athletes to participate in, and also for potential aspiring Muslim athletes to consider sports as a career in which they can flourish.
“In addition, we want to make the non-Muslim audience aware of the rituals and practices within the Muslim faith, as this acceptance and awareness will help them in understanding what to expect from their Muslim colleagues and result in a welcoming, warm and friendly environment for all.
“Our approach is to be as warm and open as possible during our workshops, which naturally allows the players and staff to open up and ask any questions they may have. We want to ensure they leave with something they did not know before.
“Until recently, there has been a culture in football where players will not open up on their religious affiliation and beliefs, but we are seeing a change in this and believe this will lead to an increase in Muslim participation in football, as well as acceptance, too.”
The insight and guidance provided by MCS has impacted the delivery of various projects by Clubs, with their workshops opening discussions about offering prayer spaces at Club facilities, ensuring halal food is available, holding consultations on Ramadan and its effects on Muslim athletes and much more.
Huddersfield Town’s Head of Education, Mike Mawson, explains: “Ismail speaks with great authority and with a passion for his subject, which puts all workshop participants at ease, creating a mood of respect and encouraging a desire for a deeper understanding among those who take part.
“His workshop covered the Five Pillars of Islam, and was very thorough in describing how one of these Five Pillars, Ramadan, is observed in principle and practice. He explained the purpose of Ramadan, the method of calculating the key dates, the disciplines followed by Muslims during Ramadan and the potential effects on the body and other implications for elite athletes.
“The workshop was very detailed and was one of those training events that you remember lots about. Our players that took part were really interested and asked lots of questions at the end of the workshop. It was a real highlight of our Player Care programme for the season.”
Having engaged with a vast range of the football community, from players aged eight to first-team professionals, from Club staff to parents and guardians, Muslim Chaplains in Sport continues to make positive change in the acceptance and knowledge of the Muslim faith.
Bhamji adds: “Due to the length of time that we have offered support within football, we have visited players when they were very young and then have had the pleasure of working with the same player again in a higher age group.
“The level of knowledge, particularly in those players, and willingness to accept others of different faiths has been evident and this is what’s needed in establishing an inclusive and knowledgeable culture for those who are hoping to come through the ranks and break though into first team and professional football.
“With our continued and joint efforts, I am confident in saying that the culture will only improve in football and a representation of various minority groups will increase.”
This feature originally appeared in the summer 2022 edition of the EFL Magazine.