In the first part of this piece I looked at the possible application of the US Rooney Rule (the compulsory interviewing of at least one ethnic minority candidate for any senior American Football coaching or management position) and concluded that such a requirement would be unlawful in the UK. I also discounted to some extent the positive discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010 as a source of help, on the basis that the conditions for their application are strict and the penalties for getting them wrong are material. So what is the answer?
It is a difficult problem to solve. There is a Catch-22 in that football clubs, and certainly the elite clubs, inevitably base their hiring policy on experience and a proven track record which are justified and legitimate recruitment criteria. That in itself will disadvantage non-white candidates trying to break into management as they are less likely to have those attributes, given the exceptionally low number of minority managers currently plying their trade, scarcely 2% of the UK’s top 92 Clubs. We are unlikely to get any help from the Employment Tribunals for two reasons – first, that Clubs will almost inevitably be found to have appointed on grounds of genuinely perceived merit rather than race, and second, that unless and until the ethnic minority candidates are at least “equally qualified” on the measures referred to in my earlier post, race claims will generally fail anyway. So overall, the law would seem to offer little direct help in this matter.
The answer may lie in a deeper analysis of the point at which the minority candidates drop out of the running to be football managers. For example, are there proportionate numbers of non-white coaches earning their coaching licence/managing at grass roots level and, if not, why? Does the problem lie at this early stage? If so, the Equality Act’s positive action provision allows for bodies to overcome a perceived disadvantage by encouraging such under-represented groups to undergo training courses and gain relevant qualifications. A Club may, for example, choose to hold sessions for its ethnic minority playing or coaching staff to meet leading figures in coaching to discuss how to break into elite football management. This is not giving minority candidates preference over better- qualified white candidates, but giving them a helping hand to become as (or better) qualified and so to compete on the proverbial level playing field for a managerial appointment on merit.
No one can magic up from thin air a cohort of ethnic minority candidates with equivalent experience and qualifications if they do not exist, but the game and its Clubs and governing bodies can certainly help ensure that there will be such candidates in the future. In my view, the answer lies, as ever, in ensuring that minority candidates are given (and take) opportunities at gross-roots level. This is of course not just a race issue – the same could equally be said of women seeking to enter football management. When Karren Brady became a director of Birmingham City FC aged 23, it is reported that the Club Chairman told her that to succeed she would have to be twice as good as the men there. “Luckily”, Brady is said to have replied, “that’s not difficult”. Hopefully a solid pipeline of minority candidates will avoid the same pressure being placed upon them.