Diversity and inclusion have become hot topics and football is no exception. The women’s game is getting more exposure (and some more money) than ever before. While the youth and diversity of the England Men’s team was a key talking point over the summer.
EA is closely linked with football culture through its FIFA series, of course. Which means it can bring together both its own efforts in the area of D&I, such as the recent Positive Play Charter, as well as support and kickstart initiatives within the game itself.
James Salmon, marketing director, EA SPORTS FIFA, took the time to talk to us about the publisher’s outlook in this area.
“Our focus is, as it always has been, growing the love of football across new platforms and communities while representing and celebrating the diversity of our players. Football and gaming is unique in its power to inspire and unite and we have a responsibility to harness that for social good,” Salmon tells us.
Of course, the FIFA franchise already has a very diverse global fanbase. “FIFA brings together more than 100 million players worldwide – representing different geographies, backgrounds, passions and cultures… It is a privilege to support [such] a diverse, global community of that scale and we recognize it comes with both responsibility and opportunity. We have a responsibility to represent the world’s game authentically and to celebrate the diversity of fans which we know represent many different cultures.”
Salmon continued: “With that in mind, we recognize the importance of engaging players in a way that respects those nuances that are unique to their community. Our opportunity exists in lending our voice and support to causes that enable positive societal change.”
That support has come in a number of forms to date, both within FIFA and also by supporting football-born campaigns and grassroots initiatives. “We’ve been intentional in both creating our own D&I initiatives and amplifying and supporting existing efforts that align with our values,” says Salmon.
“We’ve invested in developing programs that celebrate diversity, such as our work with the Midnight Ramadan League – highlighting the underrepresentation of British South Asians in the professional game.” A part of that work was an advert featuring Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury, which won Channel 4’s £1m Diversity in Advertising Award – money that goes to further funding the campaign’s reach.
“We’ve been privileged to work closely with the Premier League in their No Room For Racism program,” Salmon says. “Through that partnership we have been able to apply the power of our platform to the cause, making young fans increasingly aware of the damage racism can do.”
Back in May of this year, EA also worked with the Kiyan Prince Foundation in order to “highlight the dangers of carrying knives and the negative social impact of knife crime amongst young people.” The campaign remembered the talented young Prince, a victim of knife crime in 2006. EA brought Prince into FIFA 21 as the player he would be today.
Staying in London, Salmon tells us about the EA team’s collaboration with football media company COPA 90 “which provides underrepresented black creators with internship opportunities across multiple levels of football media.”
Of course gaming has its own issues with racism, ones that EA is looking to tackle via its Positive Play Charter.
“Building inclusive online gaming communities is hard and we take it seriously,” explains Salmon. “We provide players with choices when it comes to ways of engaging with other players, and we take swift action against any player that violates our code of conduct. We take action against the common issues such as language and some unfair play, through to the rarer incidents of threatening or harmful disruptive behaviour.
“On multiple occasions we have had the opportunity to demonstrate how our values stand up in our actions,” he adds. “For example, we took action against a player who racially abused Ian Wright after he lost a match while playing with Ian Wright’s in-game version. We issued a lifetime ban to this individual. We’re diligent about warning, suspending and banning inappropriate behaviour.”
Coming back to more positive efforts, Salmon tells us that EA is “exploring opportunities with potential partners in grassroots football and although this effort has just kicked off, it’s incredibly exciting for us.”
One sign of that came last year, when EA announced a two-year shirt sponsorship and partnership with LGBTQ+ club Stonewall FC. It’s an “LGBTQ+ orientated football team” which plays in the Middlesex County League Premier Division
The company continues to promote and depict women’s national teams in the game. In FIFA 22, there’s 17 such teams, fully licensed with authentic crests, kits and playing squads. Plus for the first time there’s the inclusion of an english-speaking female commentator in the game: Alex Scott, who amassed 140 England caps in her career.
On the announcement of her role Scott said: “Representation is crucial and the inclusion of an English-speaking female commentator on FIFA is game-changing. The impact it will have is simply stratospheric… I know this is just the start of stronger female footballing representation from EA Sports and the football community as a whole.”
And in a broader sense Salmon too sees a bigger, brighter future for football and EA: “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished but the opportunities to further embed FIFA in the fabric of football, represent and celebrate its diverse communities and provide an inclusive experience that inspires the next generation of football fans are near endless. We’re all committed to accelerating this now and into the future.”