Is English football institutionally racist?
Is racism in English football endemic? Are we in such a state of crisis that we need urgent radical reform of our game?
Racism has always been an underlying issue in our game, but the taboo about talking about it is thankfully on the decline. As a sport football is one of the worlds most diverse, but the games most senior roles continue to seemingly be reserved for the select few.
A study commissioned in 2014 by the Sport’s Persons Think Tank found that black and ethnic minorities (BME) took up just 3.4% of ‘top’ coaching positions, despite 25% of players coming from the same backgrounds. With this particular statistic in mind, it is unsurprising that the recent decision to appoint Chris Ramsey as manager of QPR was so heavily publicised.
Ramsey who had previously enjoyed coaching spells at Spurs and QPR, was finally given his managerial break in early 2015, yet the issue of race immediately reared it’s head:
“The fact that we’re still at this stage highlighting that I’m the only black Premier League manager shows that it’s not the norm to have people from ethnic minorities in this position. Until this becomes normal and not highlighted in such spectacular fashion, that racism will be evident.”
Before we suddenly fall into the debate about quota’s and affirmative action, it is important to consider whether there are that many decent BME managerial options out there? When Paul Ince is largely considered the most eligible of black managers involved in the game, the issue has to be more with developing BME coaches and less with picking them ahead of their white counterparts. Yes we have a significant shortage in BME managers, but actually the real issue that needs to be dealt with is how to ensure more are moving into coaching positions in the first place.
People have already knee-jerked towards instituting our own version of the ‘Rooney Rule’ that has forced NFL clubs since 2002 to interview at least one BME candidate when a Head Coach or General Managers position becomes available. Positive discrimination though often runs the risk of just reasserting these existing racial views rather than to challenge them, and the priority for the FA should be encouraging ex players and members of the wider community to get involved in coaching at the lowest levels first.
At the minute artificially placing coaches from BME background into ‘top’ managerial roles is just as likely to harm the game as it is to do good. Quota systems as a policy more generally seek to alienate certain peoples rather than to integrate them into a society, something that football would do well to bare in mind given that equality and unity are two of the most crucial values in our game.
Defenders of the Rooney Rule though would argue that it is less a quota system, and more a case of getting candidates in front of potential employers. The issue though is how can it be expected that any of these BME coaches get hired when there are far fewer high quality ones around?
Whilst the Rooney Rule seems like a step in the right direction, ensuring that more coaches get into the game from minority backgrounds has to surely be the priority? It is a wholly more difficult solution that to simply legislate that BME candidates must be interviewed, but fixing our game at the grass roots level is really the only long-term solution available to the FA.
Should we look to the Rooney Rule, or do we actually need to focus on revamping coaching at the grassroots level of our game?