• Thu. Dec 7th, 2023

DEBATE: Sport Is it time for English football to embrace the Rooney Rule?

Connor Matchett: Yes, its success in American Football is irrefutable proof that it is effective 

The NFL’s Rooney Rule was put in place as a measure to increase the proportion of black and ethnic minority coaches in American Football. In the most simple of senses, it has succeeded, with the percentage of black and ethnic minorities coaches having risen from 6% to 22% in the 12 year period following the rule’s implementation. To put that into an English football context, the current percentage of black managers in the football league is 3.2%, or 3 managers in 92 after Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink’s appointment as Burton manager. The Rooney Rule should be an important and necessary addition to English football.

At the minute the difference in conversion rate of BEM high-level players into high-level coaches in England is appalling and should be an issue at the very top of the FA’s agenda. If the earlier stat of 3 BEM managers in England’s Football League is shocking, then the fact that the Sports People’s Think Tank (SPTT) revealed only 19 BEM coaches are in the ‘top’ 552 positions in England’s first four divisions, should shock even more. When compared to the high number of BEM players, a fact that the FA should be praised for, the number of BEM coaches is despicable.

Should appointments for managers and coaches be made on merit? Of course, and every single BEM coach or player would say the same. It is not the job that the Rooney Rule guarantees, it is the opportunity.

The Rooney Rule is not a quota, or a guaranteed job for a percentage of BEM candidates, it is simply forcing owners and chairmen to consider talent that they would not otherwise think about. What that in turn does, is give the same BEM candidates experience of the interview process and exposure in the footballing world, which would, in theory at least, lead to the increase in black and ethnic minority coaches getting high-level jobs.

Many will argue that these appointments should be made on merit alone, and that it simply happens to be the fact that white coaches are better, and that it has nothing to do with race or skin colour.

Sadly however, the problem runs much deeper than that. First of all, it is almost certainly the case that white, middle-class owners will feel much more comfortable hiring a white manager, as they may feel that they understand their motivations better, and are more familiar with their general being. In addition to this, for many owners, success is linked with whiteness, so when they think of success they think of Shankly, Ferguson and Clough, and the lack of BEM success therefore hurts the current crop of talent.

It is almost too much of a risk to hire a BEM coach. This sort of institutionalised racism begins at the top, and it is then no surprise that alongside the lack of BEM coaches, there is also a lack of diversity within the FA, the Premier League and the Football League as organisations.

What the Rooney Rule does is create the opportunity for BEM coaches to put their foot in the door, and allow them to make themselves aware to owners and clubs that otherwise would not consider them. This sort of positive action cannot be negative, and while claims of only wanting to get the job on merit are fair, it is pertinent to say that the Rooney Rule does not guarantee a job. What it does guarantee, however, is the opportunity, something that most BEM coaches currently lack.


Gilbert Dowding: No, English football must seek to encourage BEM coaches through education changes 

Blithely asserting that “there is no racism in football”, as Jose Mourinho did last month, seems unreconstructed and needlessly assured considering the weight of evidence that advancement in football management for black and ethnic minorities is more difficult than it ought to be.

However, the implementation of the “Rooney Rule” may not be a panacea for the stale football culture hampering the progress of hopeful BEM coaches and managers. The Premier League’s recent announcement that it will add three BEM places to the Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme – set up in 2013 to develop top-level coaches – is part of a long term plan to boost the number of minority coaches involved at the top level of the game. This perhaps is a pointer to the best way forward, since the transferral of the ‘Rooney Rule’ from the NFL to Britain would be significantly challenging.

As Les Ferdinand pointed out recently the main issue may be that clubs don’t emulate the rounds of corporate interviews for managerial positions as happens in the NFL. With owners preferring to appoint often before the incumbent has left their position, it would be hard to insist that at least one BME candidate is interviewed in the absence of any interview process.

Furthermore there is the undeniably popular opinion, even among those the ruling would supposedly help, that they want to achieve success on their own merits without the implication of tokenism. This is a feeling recently voiced by Titus Bramble and Kieron Dyer who both claim that they want to make their way in football without any interference proving themselves independently from their background.

New Burton Albion boss, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, has said that he would “want to be called because I am the right person.” To prove themselves as the right person for a position in football it would help if those applying for positions could point to a complete selection of coaching badges that would signal their drive and commitment.

This seems to have been recognised by a batch of young footballers, including Liam Rosenior and Tom Huddlestone, who are in the process of gaining their badges so that they can have the best chance once they stop playing.

Instead of the Rooney rule, it can be argued we should be placing more emphasis on furthering inclusion at the education level. This might mean that the number of minority participants on PFA courses could rise from 18% to close in on the 30% that are playing in the Premier League today.

It’s also worth noting that after initial success for the rule in the United States, the most recent cycle of hiring saw no BEM head-coaches or General Managers appointed in a development that has provoked strong criticism that the underlying attitudes have not been changed by the use of the rule. The fear is that the Rooney Rule would not displace the backward mindsets that pervade many corners of football’s upper echelons.

Instead, we can place the focus on increasing the number of highly qualified coaches of a BEM background that will surely revolutionise the thinking of those who control the clubs in Britain.

Then, hopefully, the makeup of the game’s management and coaching will reflect the ever-increasing diversity of both the population and the players who are plying their trade hoping one day to manage when after they hang up their boots.

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