Tuesday 01 August 2023, 06:00

Ian Wright: “The message has to get out – discrimination will not be tolerated”

If you are a fan of English football between the mid 1980’s and the end of the 90’s, the name Ian Wright will conjure up a mix of memories and emotions. For Crystal Palace and Arsenal fans, those memories will invariably be of the former striker wheeling away after scoring yet another goal, with a beaming smile on his face. As Arsenal’s website succinctly summarises: ‘Some footballers are great goal scorers. Others are scorers of great goals. Ian Wright was both.’

A mural of Ian Wright is seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion at Selhurst Park

A showman on the pitch, his infectious personality has seen him become a regular face on television post-playing career. Whilst his love for football, and especially the women’s game - Wright is both a huge supporter of Arsenal Women, and a highly respected pundit – remain undimmed, there have been times in recent years, where a more sombre personality has emerged. One such time was in 2021, when a teenager in Ireland appeared in court after sending Wright racially abusive comments on social media. In a widely shared series of videos, the former front man lamented the lack of action against such behaviour, and the feeling of powerlessness it sparked.

Prior to the kick-off of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, FIFA announced that the tournament would again raise awareness of, and highlight, the #NoDiscrimination campaign, which aims to take direct action to tackle all forms of discrimination, including racism, in society. Speaking in Sydney / Gadigal, Wright, who is creating a daily video diary for FIFA during the tournament, spoke with both passion and power, underlining the ability of such a campaign to make a difference. “It’s vitally important because the message has to get out there that discrimination won’t be tolerated” he said. “This is the time to speak up about these things. I’m a massive advocate for using your platform to speak about the wrongs, and everything to do with discrimination. FIFA, with its platform should be leading the way in that.”

A month before a ball was kicked in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, FIFA released shocking statistics highlighting the severity of online abuse aimed at participants during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. These were based on findings from its social media protection service tool, which has also been made available to all participating teams and players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. “I would implore all the players to use the social media moderation tool because of what it’s there for; to call it (discrimination) out. I could show my social media now and you’ll see stuff on there. You have to call it out no matter how small it is. Use it” implored Wright. Wright’s passion for fighting inequality extends far beyond tackling discrimination. Whilst enthused by what he has seen during the tournament so far, ensuring there are adequate opportunities for the next generation of players is something he is also keeping a watchful eye on.

“When I was a child, as a boy, I was able to access football at any stage. We want that now to happen for girls. If you watch the World Cup, you're seeing great stuff, but don't forget the grassroots, it still needs a lot of work. We don't want girls to be inspired, then wake up and not be able to play. “Wherever I see any kind of inequality in the game, with the platform I have, you just call it out. All the girls want to do, all the women want to do is just play. They just need the support to play like that. “You don't need male allies, but if they can come in and they're genuine with their support of the game, it's going to help to bring more awareness to the game; bring more eyes to the game.” To paraphrase a famous chant from the North Bank at Highbury: Ian Right, Right, Right.

Arsenal goalscorers Ian Wright (c) and Andy Linighan (r) along with David O' Leary (l) celebrate with the trophy after the 1993 FA Cup Final replay