This study traces the implementation of The English Football Association’s Ethics and Sports Equity Strategy (E&SES), which aims to tackle inequalities - including racism – in English football, but particularly in the often overlooked local, grass-roots form of the game. Case studies of five County Football Associations were undertaken to assess the implementation of the E&SES, involving 57 semi-structured interviews with local football stakeholders and participant observation at County FA and National FA offices. Following critical realist principles, the structural conditions of local football were outlined using historical documentary evidence, tracing the legacy of amateurist ideas of fairness and apoliticism, and identifying the exclusivity of ‘club cultures’ at County FAs. The influence of more recent policy developments that have politicised and professionalised the local game were then assessed.\ud Research found resistance to change among long-standing County FA Governance\ud personnel, attributed to components of amateurism including ‘paternalism’, ‘protectionism’ and ‘fairness’. Here, many saw the E&SES as being unfair itself and causing fresh problems, as it supported preferential treatment of some members over others. Such an intervention was therefore seen as unnecessary and unwarranted, so long-standing amateurist conditions were legitimised and reproduced by key actors. The ‘club cultures’ of County FAs were also informed by ideas of race, often derived from Victorian British colonialism; this, despite widespread denials from key personnel of any racism in the game. The notion of ‘colour-blind’ racism was used to explain this often contradictory process. This colour-blind sentiment made any use of ideas of race as a form of resistance to County FA policy or procedure necessarily problematic.\ud The structural conditions of local English football harbour complex processes of\ud racialised exclusion that require further interrogation. Utilising ‘whiteness’ to account for the racism here has merit, but risks missing some of the wider mechanisms behind exclusion; something a critical realist framework may be better placed to identify
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