Clegg needs to turn anger at dugout discrimination into action

Nick Clegg will speak today of the unacceptable situation of so few black managers in English football; Shamik Das outlines a solution to the shameful problem.

When the Chicago Bears faced the Tampa Bay Buccanneers at Wembley last month, two African-American coaches were in charge on the touchlines, yet it’s nigh on inconceivable to imagine two black managers in an association football game under the arch anytime soon.

The scandalous lack of black managers in English football will be criticised by Nick Clegg in a speech in Brixton today, in which he will also attack the banks for discriminating against black customers.

The deputy prime minister will tell the annual Scarman lecture:

“In football, fans adore their heroes for their talent and character, whether they are black or white, and when Sepp Blatter dares trivialise racism on the pitch, his comments are rightly met with public outcry.

“But how many black managers are there in the Premier League? Zero. And in the top four divisions? There are just two, despite the fact a quarter of all players are black.”

That’s right, just two out of the 92 – Birmingham’s Chris Hughton and Charlton’s Chris Powell; as Clegg will add:

“If you are a white player you have a one in 50 chance of moving into management. If you are a black player? One in 500.”

So what, then, are the reasons for this? And what can legislators do about it?

Academics at Staffordshire University, led by Professor Ellis Cashmore, have undertaken major research into the topic. Reporting their findings earlier this year, they cited “institutional racism” in the boardroom – where people do not consciously discriminate against minorities, but fail to challenge old assumptions and stereotypes, meaning a pattern of operations continues – as one of the main factors.

As the Guardian reported at the time, one of the respondents to their survey said:

“People appoint people like themselves. White chairmen appoint white, male managers. The cycle is not easily broken.”

With another adding:

“Football boards have very few ethnic minorities on them – that’s more likely to be the issue than the players or backroom staff. It’s an old boys’ club that is unlikely to bring in people from outside their peer group.”

Over half – 56% – of those polled by the survey of more than 1,000 football fans, professional players, referees, coaches and managers believe there is racism at the top of football’s hierarchy, a figure that rises to 73% among ethnic minority respondents.

Cashmore himself said of the results:

“The research indicates that fans sense that there’s an issue in British football… The majority is in no doubt that there is racism in the boardroom – that in itself demands attention.”

Looking to solutions, then, and, as the Staffordshire University research concluded, and as Brendan Batson, Gordon Taylor, Ian Holloway, Olly Holt and Bears coach Lovie Smith have all elucidated more recently, what’s needed in English football is a “Rooney Rule”, the system used in the NFL, in which at least one black candidate has to be on the shortlist for managerial vacancies.

Cyrus Mehri, one of the driving forces behind the rule in the States, explained the progress made by the rule when visiting England to persuade the FA and other stakeholders of its merits in September, and how it would solve Englands “embarrassing problem” of a lack of black managers – especially considering the number of black players in the professional game.

He told the Telegraph’s Henry Winter:

“When we started in 2002, there were one or two black head coaches of the 32 in the NFL. Now there are eight. That came about because of the [changed] interview process. The general managers at NFL clubs went from one to five…

“[Having two black coaches in Superbowl 07] was historic, I was very proud. That’s a message of hope and empowerment. The similarity in England now with the US 10 years ago is uncanny. I have no doubt the Rooney Rule can be a big success here. The numbers would go up dramatically…

“This has the potential to create hope for a lot of young people. I kept thinking of the 16 year-olds [going into sports], watching prejudice playing out before their eyes. It’s like putting poison right through society. That demoralises.

“The Rooney Rule now sends a message. Sixteen-year-olds now have real hope for the future.’’

It is now imperative, having highlighted the problem, for Mr Clegg, along with sports minister Hugh Robertson, to lobby the Football Association, Premier League, Football League, League Managers Association, Professional Football Association and all the other bodies and organisations charged with running the beautiful game to adopt the Rooney Rule.

Save for the recent Terry/Ferdinand and Suarez/Evra controversies, we’ve largely driven racism off the pitch – it’s time to drive it out of the boardroom as well.

See also:

Blatter: Contrite, but also still head of FIFAAlex Hern, November 18th 2011

He sees no corruption, hears no racism and speaks no sense: It’s time to kick Blatter outShamik Das, November 17th 2011

Action must be taken whenever racism rears its ugly head – including in sportSabby Dhalu, November 12th 2011

Has racism returned to football?Shamik Das, October 25th 2011

All eyes on Barcelona as racism rears its ugly head againShamik Das, May 3rd 2011

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