Reported this week on BBC Sport Online are the results of a study funded by Football Against Racism in Europe (“FARE”) into ethnic minority representation in professional football coaching hierarchies. It makes interesting, if faintly one-sided, reading.
Taking the six most senior coaching staff at each of the 92 professional Clubs in the English Leagues produces a total of 552 coaches. Even though approximately 25% of the Leagues’ players are of ethnic minority background, only 19 of the coaches, 3.4%, are not white. Even taking into account FARE’s obvious agenda in this matter, this has led to a great deal of high emotion among involved parties, including references to “institutional racism” and the need for football to “heal itself”. In addition, of course, the study breathes fresh life into the question of whether the Rooney Rule should be introduced in the UK.
Football League Chairman Greg Clarke has come in for a barracking over not floating this at the Football League’s AGM, but with due respect to his detractors, the short point is that whatever its cosmetic or moral merits, whatever its success in the NFL in the US and however great or limited the difference it would actually make here, the Rule would almost certainly be unlawful in the UK. However worthy the goal of equality, positive discrimination is generally prohibited, and none of the commentaries seem to recognise this.
The BBC report raises two other points relevant to claims of institutional racism. First, the FARE study claims that some ethnic minority coaches have “experienced racism within the high-level coach education environment”, and blames the FA for failing to address this. By counter, the FA says that it is not aware of any complaints of discrimination and that it encourages anyone experiencing such treatment to report it immediately. It already requires coach educators to undergo equality and diversity training as part of its openness and inclusion plan.
The Rooney Rule is not the answer to allegations of racism among those training the next generation of professional football coaches. That answer lies in educating those who can be taught that this is wrong and dismissing those who cannot. Indeed, the Rule runs the risk of making the matter worse – letting ethnic minority candidates be seen to be shortlisted on grounds of their ethnicity rather than their merits, and so to be receiving more favourable treatment than equivalently-competent white candidates. Some element of resentment of a necessarily racial nature would be an almost inevitable consequence.
Second, the big question here is why only very low numbers of ethnic minority players are gaining formal coaching qualifications, the badges without which there is no possibility of obtaining one of these roles. Former Birmingham City player Michael Johnson is reported to consider that many ethnic minority professionals are put off even trying to get their badges by the belief that there will be no job opportunities for them even if they do. That may or may not be understandable bearing in mind also the tiny size of the pool in which they would be fishing for such jobs, but it would clearly explain the very low appointment statistics. The candidates have to be there to get the jobs – institutional racism by Clubs is knowing that the ethnic minority candidate is better (or at least as good), but still giving it to someone else because he is white. It is not giving the role to someone who is qualified in preference to someone who is not. The Rooney Rule would not fix that either, since it cannot sensibly require Clubs to interview candidates who do not have the right badges.
Mr Johnson does have a full set of coaching badges and yet says he has been offered “only” three interviews in as many years. With no disrespect at all to Mr Johnson, however, you cannot get from this example to allegations of institutional racism until you know both why he fell down at those 3 interviews and in particular, whether his white peers with similar playing experience and coaching qualifications have been statistically more successful.