Behind the BadgeHow Red Together champions LFC's commitment to inclusion
"It definitely makes my job a lot easier when you've got someone like him…"
The ‘him’ in question is Jürgen Klopp, and Rishi Jain, senior equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) manager at Liverpool FC, is discussing the impact of the Reds boss’ commitment to leading the club’s work around campaigns such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces.
“Jürgen wears his rainbow laces more often than not these days, he just leaves them in his shoes, and that is brilliant. It definitely makes my job a lot easier when you’ve got someone like him and Jordan [Henderson], and the players and the manager across the women’s team as well, who all speak so well and are such great advocates for inclusion,” Jain tells Liverpoolfc.com.
“But actually, for any of our supporters from the LGBT+ community, you do not get a bigger ally than Jürgen Klopp. Then Jordan doubles down on the message as club captain, which is incredible, and then we see pretty much all of the women’s team doing exactly the same.
“It really is a unified message around ED&I. That’s what I think sets us apart from other clubs and other organisations, that we’ve got men’s and women’s players and managers all recognising and championing our shared values.
“Then that is backed up by the great work of LFC Foundation in the community. It is the entire club saying: ‘This is what we are all about, this is us, these are our values.’ You can’t help but be proud to be part of it.”
October is a significant month for Red Together, Liverpool’s ED&I programme, with four major initiatives taking place: Rainbow Laces, Black History Month, World Mental Health Day and No Room for Racism.
Indeed, it’s a month that is months in the making.
“Never early enough!” replies Jain, when asked how far in advance the planning begins behind the scenes at the club.
“I think we started talking about ideas for Black History Month back in June, so you’re talking four or five months in advance, and if anything we probably should have started earlier.
“Ideally, as soon as a campaign or key date finishes, we want to be doing a debrief and saying, ‘What went well? What worked? What didn’t work? How do we make it better, bolder, stronger?’
“Last year was so successful with the Rainbow Laces content, the Black History Month content, with other bits that we did, it sets the bar now really high so we need to be a lot more creative with how we’re going to actually deliver these campaigns.
“We don’t just want to repeat the same thing because we know it worked once, we want to make sure that we continue to move the dial forward.”
Through the club’s inclusion networks, groups of up to 15 club staff come together to workshop ideas that will then be refined and delivered as part of Liverpool’s campaigns.
“Sometimes it’s just a culmination of one conversation or one idea that then snowballs into what is always a really impactful and powerful piece of work,” Jain explains.
As many as 100 people can be involved in the delivery of a single piece of content, with club departments such as media, design, brand and, of course, the men’s and women’s football set-ups all working together.
This work is done in conjunction with LFC Foundation, which supports and supplements campaigns with events such as the upcoming Black History Month tournament for young people from across Merseyside.
Jain continues: “On a global level, the approach is very much, ‘This is what we believe in.’ This is what goes to our 126 million followers across our channels. But then we also want, and need, to demonstrate our values on a local community level.”
The club’s ED&I work appears to have had, and is having, a positive impact, too.
“I’d say people, our own fanbase and others, look to us and expect us to speak out on certain issues both from a promoting inclusion perspective and also when something negative has happened,” Jain says.
“People expect a piece from the club to talk about it, whether that’s the manager or Billy [Hogan] or sometimes myself. That’s really good because it shows that people know you will come to the table on those topics.
“Through the awareness-raising we did through Red Together last season, we’ve definitely seen more understanding and engagement with what our values are from an anti-discrimination perspective in the ground. That’s really encouraging.
“Everyone has been made aware of the club’s values and what we stand for and therefore if someone was to cross the line we can say: ‘We made it really clear and there are consequences which come with certain behaviours.’
“But those consequences aren’t just about kicking someone out, they are about education and making sure that everyone – not just the individual – is told: ‘We are Liverpool Football Club, these are our values.’
“We can’t be absolutely perfect on absolutely everything, but if we focus in on the topics that really need progress and are really important, we know that we can use our voice in a really positive way.”
An example of Red Together’s proactivity and educational value came last August, when Klopp sat down with Paul Amann – founder of Kop Outs, a fan group established in 2016 to provide a voice for LGBT+ supporters – in response to homophobic chanting during the Reds’ match at Norwich City.
Watch Jürgen Klopp's conversation with Paul Amann
“Straight away our fanbase is engaged because it is Jürgen. He speaks so well, he is so passionate, he is so authentic, he is an incredible ally for ED&I and particularly for the LGBT+ community,” Jain notes.
“That’s great and we can work with him to use his voice and his impact and people will listen. They don’t want to listen to me! But they’ll listen to him, as we all will, and that is great.
“As soon as he speaks everyone stops because they know something magical is coming, so Jürgen sitting down with Paul and being so open and honest and saying, ‘I don’t understand, talk to me about it,’ it’s incredible.
“He did the same thing with Meikayla Moore. He had that conversation for Rainbow Laces and he ends up asking Meikayla about how and what it is like to come out as a gay athlete, to your family, to your teammates, to your coaches.
Watch the boss' chat with Meikayla Moore
“He’s really self-aware, he said: ‘I’m 54, I haven’t really had a huge amount of exposure to this, but I do have friends who are LGBT+ so I am always learning.’
“That honesty and humility to say, ‘I want to do as much as I possibly can but I know I’m not the finished article because nobody is’ goes a long way because it shows to our supporters and to the players and colleagues and staff that you can have those conversations.
“You can be inquisitive, you can feel you need to know more about something and it’s tied in really nicely to the work we’ve done around launching the Pride range in the retail stores because it is a visible way of showing allyship.”
What is the next stage for Red Together, then? How will the club go about developing its ED&I work further?
“It’s great and it’s important that in months like October there is a real focus on certain topics but the key thing for me is, ‘How do we continue that conversation all year round?’” Jain details.
“Because if we do not continue to talk about these areas throughout the whole year, we are not being true to our values. We have to make sure that we are highlighting these topics and making a positive impact on everyone we engage with because if we don’t, it’s just not worth it.”
Another dedicated Red Together fixture at Anfield is set to take place in 2023 following the successful promotion of the programme at last season’s game against West Ham United, while Jain is also keen to involve both players and supporters in the club’s future projects.
“We want to share messages which fans can then go out and advocate in their own way and actually celebrate what it means to be part of Liverpool Football Club both on and off the pitch,” he ends.
“There’s loads of internal stuff that we need to do around that, there are always things we can do better, but it’s always really important for us to demonstrate our values and say: ‘We are Liverpool Football Club, this is what we believe in and this is what we are all about.’”
- Learn more about Red Together here