BAMRef Conference


Read about the 2nd Black Asian & Mixed Heritage football referees (BAMRef) conference at Wembley Stadium.

Last month Gerard O'Sullivan, Pshtiwan Ali and Anita Sandhu headed up to Wembley for the Black Asian & Mixed Heritage football referees (BAMRef) conference. Read the story of the day:

As a member of the GFA Inclusion Advisory Group (IAG) committee I thought it would be exceptionally helpful for my own understanding of the issues facing minority groups involved in football in England if I were to attend the 2nd Black Asian & Mixed Heritage football referees (BAMRef) conference at Wembley Stadium. Once I was given encouragement to attend by the BAMRef committee I advised our IAG Chair that I was intending to go along and that I would feedback lessons learned; I expected a fair few.

Having recently refereed in a team of seven officials at the 2nd GFA Refugee tournament in Bristol I thought I would also encourage Pshtiwan Ali, an excellent Level 5 GFA Referee, to join me. Pshtiwan happily accepted the opportunity at which point the GFA then asked that I help Anita Sandhu, an up and coming bright young referee, to attend the conference too.

Pshtiwan and Anuta


 At 06 early on Sunday 23rd July I left Gloucester to collect the two hugely enthusiastic referees from the GFA HQ at 0715! As there had been a train strike planned across England on the same day it was fortunate that we left so early reaching Wembley Stadium at 0930 for the 1000 start. There were approx.. 150 referees present from a variety of backgrounds as well as countless executives from all corners of the FA, as well as representatives from Kick it Out, football’s equality & inclusion campaign.

 A fascinating day that is reflected really well in Anita’s hugely encouraging and bright overview of the day’s events. Anita wrote: ‘Despite the travel difficulties there was a very good turnout. For the second in person event and to get double the number of referees was a huge achievement for BAMRef and what we are striving to achieve. The location was phenomenal. It was an honour to be able to see the Royal Box and Wembley Stadium from a whole new perspective. The event was very well organised from start to finish and it ran smoothly. 

There were many great speeches from a range of different people but the one that stuck with me the most was an inspirational talk from Howard Webb. He spoke from the heart about his own refereeing journey as a white male and how different it would have been of he was a black male to get to the same point. There has only ever been one black referee in the Premier League so far. I found this statistic staggering, so it really highlighted the issue we are dealing with and the reality that BAM people are having to work harder for the same opportunities. Unfortunately this trend is also seen across other industries too with few BAM people able to reach positions of authority…..but change is possible.

I also really enjoyed 1 to 1 mentoring sessions on Promotions and Assistant Refereeing, where we received individual advice from Professional referees who have been in our position themselves in recent years. My favourite part of the event were the awards of recognition as it inspiring to see the opportunities available to new and upcoming referees. It was interesting to hear other people sharing relatable stories from their own refereeing journeys.

The event ended with plenty of appreciation given to BAMRef, Kick it Out and the PGMOL who collectively put together such an amazing event. I'm excited to see BAMRef continue to grow and develop as this is only the beginning for the organisation. I'm also very grateful to have been in a room with so many so many referees from BAM backgrounds and I really hope that it won't be the last time’

The three of us were encouraged to network and made exceptionally welcome. I agree with Anita that it was heartening to hear Howard Webb express his sadness that BAMRef’s were under-represented at the highest levels of football and that the new FA Referee Strategy was acutely focussed on addressing the matter. The highlight for me was hearing of the personal challenges faced by the impressive Ruebyn Ricardo’s during his rapid rise to the football league as a National level referee; the youngest from the black community to be appointed to that level.

On reflection the biggest reminder for me is that, even though I am ‘male & pale (but not stale!)’ we have an obligation as members of the GFA’s IAG committee to consistently display leadership across all corners of the GFA County and drive change for inclusion & diversity.