Football Onside is a pioneering bystander intervention programme which trains participants to notice and intervene to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in football and sport. Led by Rachel Fenton at the University of Exeter the project is a collaboration between University of Exeter Law School, Exeter City Community Trust (ECCT), Public Health England, Devon Country Council, Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services and the Hollie Gazzard Trust.

The progamme has just been delivered to staff at Exeter City Football Club and Community Trust and is being rigorously evaluated by researchers at University of Exeter.

The Football Onside programme takes as its premise the idea that anyone can be an 'active bystander' - anyone can intervene positively in potentially harmful situations, if given the right training. Crucially, and as research demonstrates, when one person intervenes it changes the ‘group norm’ - it shows others that it's okay to speak-up and deters would-be perpetrators from harmful behaviour since they fear being pulled up on it.

This project emerges at a critical moment - VAWG has been thrown into the spotlight by recent campaigns like #MeToo and #Times Up and is increasingly recognized as a global public health and human rights issue. Football and sport presents a particular opportunity for positive bystander work to challenge VAWG given the way in which high profile players and coaches commonly act as role models, especially for younger people.

It is precisely this capacity for changing culture, through positive example, that this project seeks to harness through the collaboration with Exeter City Community Trust. 

Our staff are in contact with over 50,000 young people across the South West and our coaches are often seen as important role models by the young players they work worth – training up coaches to model positive bystander behaviour is a great way to contribute to the kind of culture change we’d like to see in football – one of mutual respect where violence and abuse, including the jokes and comments that go along with it, become unacceptable.

Jamie Vittles, Head of Community, ECCT.

Bystander intervention is about empowering all members of the community to speak up and challenge gender inequality and the drivers of violence against women. It’s about helping people to find their own way to make an impact and make a difference. Following the success of The Intervention Initiative in universities, Football Onside is a bystander programme specifically for staff at Exeter City Community Trust . Our aim is to create a programme and learning which can be rolled out and utilised by football and sports clubs across the country.

Dr Rachel Fenton, University of Exeter

Partners at FOSS event

Partners With the The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Exeter, Councillor Rob Hannaford at the ESRC FoSS event.

Left to right: Lex Gainsbury (PHE), Richard Edwards (Head of Exeter Law School), Nick Gazzard (HGT), Jess Hurrell, Rachel Fenton, The Mayor, Jamie Vittles, Francis Porter (Law Student UWE)

Team of partners

The project team at Exeter City Football Club.

Launch at Exeter City FC

Dame Vera Baird, Victims Commissioner, gave the keynote speech at the official launch of Football Onside, held at Exeter City Football Club’s ground St James Park on Wednesday 2 October.