West Ham United were delighted to show their backing for the One Game East London campaign by hosting a special event attended by Joint-Chairman David Gold on Tuesday evening.
''We have come a long way,'' said Gold, addressing attendees during the open debate at the Boleyn Ground. ''When you look at the conditions during the 70s and 80s, compared to the playing environment now, it's clear we are winning this battle. There will always be another hurdle to overcome, but it's about confining these problems as much as possible and moving things along as best we can."
Hosted by Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion campaign, the event acted as a platform for coaches to discuss a range of issue surrounding the grassroots game, kicking off with presentations from London FA's Darren Smith and West Ham United Community Trust coaching apprentices Natalie Morrison, Aklimuz Zaman, Kai Parkinson, John Jatto and Hayley Irving.
Talking about their different roles across east London and Essex, the youngsters gave an insight into the work they do to engage schoolchildren in sport, before Gold headed up a panel discussion including former Chelsea and Celtic defender Paul Elliott, and Blue Square Bet North side Histon FC's Gordon Boateng, football's current youngest chief executive.
When questioned on issues surrounding sexism in football, Gold, who appointed Karren Brady as managing director of Birmingham City at just 23 years of age, commented: "People believe there is a barrier for women when it comes to getting into sport, but it's much wider than that, it's about getting into business generally.
"We shouldn't try to encapsulate this in a tiny area. It's a much broader issue, and it is tough to break into a very male-dominated environment. You need real determination and perseverance to push yourself forward, and most importantly, courage. There are opportunities though. The worlds of football and business are much more open these days."
Elliott, a Kick It Out's trustee and campaigner of over two decades, shared Gold's views, reiterating the progress which has been made in making the sport more inclusive: "We have to be mindful and respectful of the advancements which have been made. We are still one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to the area of equality, diversity and integration.
He added: "We cannot get complacent though. There are current challenges and further ones ahead, and it is important that we drive for real sustainable, meaningful change across all levels. Regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, disability or sexuality, equality of opportunity is a god-given right."
Having overcome barriers of his own during his career to date, Boateng emphasised the importance of self-belief and seeking advice in order to develop: "Networking is crucial. You never stop learning, and it's vital that you feed off of people that have been in the game longer than you. You have to accept you'll make mistakes along the way, but it's how you learn from those experiences and move forward."
Questions were directed at the panel by representatives from the Black and Asian Coaches Association (BACA), AFC Wembley, and ProStar Youth FC, as well as other grassroots and community organisations, who had travelled from various parts of the capital to be in attendance.
Reflecting on the event, Julian Hilaire, a local teacher and coach, and younger brother of former Crystal Palace and Portsmouth midfielder Vince, said: "I found it extremely insightful. These types of forums allow people in grassroots set-ups the chance to approach and speak to figures with experience at all levels. Looking to the future, hearing the different stories of the young apprentices was inspirational, and reassured me that the game is in very capable hands moving forward."
Kick It Out's general manager Roisin Wood concluded: "Holding forums such as these are extremely valuable to the campaign. It gives us the chance to hear and speak to people involved at ground level, and to learn about the different issues they are encountering on park pitches and in community settings on a daily basis."
To learn more about how you get involved in any area of Kick It Out's work, please visit www.kickitout.org or call 0207 253 0162.