Because they don’t pretend racism is someone else’s problem.
Racism, like Luis Suarez’s dental chart, is an ugly thing – and one that, like Gary Lineker’s tenure on Match of the Day, seems remarkably and unwelcomely persistent. In recent years, there’s been such a focus on racism on the pitch that attention has drifted, like Titus Bramble’s concentration late in the game, away from racism in the boardroom.
So here’s something to remember when next an FA spokesman, reading from a prepared statement, reasserts his organisation’s commitment to rid the game of racism: there are more black men sitting in the House of Lords than there are managing English football teams.
Cheating → racism → cannibalism. Image © FitbaThatba
There’s a particularly dispiriting line of thinking in Britain at the moment that runs: [X bad thing is happening], but no one’s ever going to do anything about it. X can be: ‘bankers are ruining Britain’, ‘the NHS is going to be destroyed despite being really quite popular’, ‘all global sporting bodies are horrendously corrupt’ – the list of pub topics goes on. The lack of ethnic minority managers in English football is one such problem. Everyone recognises it, yet no one can conceive of anything being done about it.
Football fans, like British people generally, have given up fighting for their values. In place of hope and energy has come apathy and cynicism. What are you going to do, asks the sceptic, force teams to hire black managers?
No, we might reply, but perhaps we could consider doing something from the middle ground that must surely exist between mandating their hiring and just carrying-on doing diddly squat? Can we at least agree that the current disgraceful situation can’t be allowed to continue?
I’m amazed at how hearteningly angry fans get when a young England player is racially abused abroad, yet how unconcerned they are about the fact that there is only one British ethnic minority manager in the Premiership (Chris Hughton). That’s one of 20 – or just 5%. (This compares with eight white non-British managers in the Premiership.) In the Championship, there is Paul Ince and Chris Powell. And, in Divisions 1 and 2, where 96% of managers are British, only one, Chris Kiwomya at Notts County, is from an ethnic minority. So, across the top four divisions of the English professional game, only 4 managers – about 4% – are from ethnic minorities.
This is a staggering under-representation when you consider that around 30% of players in the top four divisions are non-white. As I’ve previously noted, football draws its managers almost exclusively from the ranks of former players, so it’s hard to see how the current arrangement can be justified.
Things have not always been better in the US. NFL writer Michael MacCambridge has documented how laws against mixed-race sport meant that, even in the 1950s, teams had to leave black players behind when competing in Florida. As late as 1961, the Washington Redskins were still refusing to sign black players. Despite the clear superiority of integrated teams, they would have continued to do so – in the nation’s capital – had their new stadium not been built on federal land, making them subject to employment discrimination legislation. The next season, they became the last NFL team to integrate.
Somewhere between then and now, the NFL decided that not only was racism unacceptable, but it was something that needed to be tackled directly. In 2003, the ‘Rooney Rule’ was brought in. It had one simple stipulation: when teams hire a new head coach, they must interview at least one ethnic minority candidate. That’s it; nothing else.
A curious symbol of sporting integrity.
It was a brilliant piece of legislation: simple to understand, simple to implement and creating no great administrative hardship for the people affected. Its impact was dramatic, though. Within three years the percentage of ethnic minority head coaches rose from 6% to 22%.
What NFL owners had admitted to themselves, rather bravely, was that, even though they were comfortable fielding teams where more than half their players were non-white, there was still lingering discrimination in coaching appointments. They recognised that there was an informal decision-making process at work that tended to preserve the status quo by short-listing people who the owners were comfortable with. People who were, well, like them. (It’s the same thing, presumably, that helps maintain the glass ceiling for women in business.)
As Cyrus Mehri, one of the architects of the Rooney Rule, explains, the deceptively simple measure worked because it helped reform and professionalise the whole process of hiring head coaches. “The Rooney Rule does not tell you who to hire. It just gets everybody to slow down… open their mind to a broad slate of candidates, including minority coaching candidates,” he says. Crucially, he points out that it “has also helped white coaching candidates who would have been overlooked. Rather than interview one candidate, teams interviewed ten.”
In other words, simple legislation like the Rooney Rule can tackle racism in sport by improving the quality of managerial appointments generally. All good candidates, ethnic minority or otherwise, require is equal consideration.
Compare with British football, whose persistent failure to address the subject rests on the unspoken argument that there’s not really racism in managerial appointments, but even if there is, there’s nothing we can do about it.
Earlier in the year, there was much fanfare from the PFA about adopting a version of the Rooney Rule in the UK. Unsurprisingly, the so-called ‘Coaching Fair Play’ proposals were rejected by the Premiership. The Football League, meanwhile, agreed to give them consideration this summer. The annual chairman’s meeting came and went in June, however, and no commitment or timetable for the proposals’ implementation was agreed.
After ‘Kick it out’, ‘Show racism the red card’ and ‘Financial Fair Play’, football’s pun generating machine gears up to spit out another in-no-way-insulting-to-your-intelligence initiative name.
It’s this endless foot-dragging that tells us that, when the FA crack down hard on on-field racism, it’s not because they abhor it and are determined to drive it out of the game, but because they know the sponsors won’t tolerate it. It doesn’t fit with their brand values.
The FA do only what they have to to keep the game saleable. Such is the way of authorities who’ve abdicated their responsibility to provide leadership in favour of profit-maximising managerialism.
The NFL has shown, meanwhile, that it has the lasting commitment necessary to make and to sustain change. At the end of last season, following several coaching changes, just four of 32 head coaches were now from ethnic minorities (12.5%), a drop from seven just two years earlier. Rather than brush things under the carpet while the sponsors are looking the other way, the NFL is now considering if the Rooney Rule needs to be extended to the roles of offensive and defensive coordinator. These are the two most senior coaching roles beneath the head coach, and a key recruiting ground for future head coaches. As it is, 12 of the 62 offensive and defensive coordinators in the league are ethnic minorities, accounting for 19% of the total. This, the NFL thinks, isn’t good enough.
So, while the PFA are left lamely talking about change coming from below, the NFL has made change right at the top and is now cascading it down.
One has to wonder why it should be so hard for football clubs to agree to interview one ethnic minority candidate. Not appoint them, just give them an interview. I can’t be sure of their motives, but I rather doubt they’re decent.
Racism, like John Terry’s self-pity, is an ugly thing. Our failure to get angry about its persistence in football tells us much about ourselves but, above all, it tells us that football, without a lasting set of values to anchor it, is heading for the rocks.
It’s a sport in the hands of individuals with such a conspicuous lack of moral purpose that it’s no wonder so many of us are world-weary about the game. After all, these people who can’t commit to making managerial hiring more diverse and meritocractic are the same folk charged with safeguarding the future of the world’s most popular sport.
It is them who’ll be entrusted with fighting-off the destructive influence of the gambling syndicates. Them who’ll be responsible for ensuring the safety of stadiums in Brazil. Them who’ll have to tackle the twin problems of spiralling wages and club debts. Them who’ll have to stop a future European Super League emasculating domestic football. Them who’ll have to prevent the World Cup becoming a propaganda roadshow for hire, available to the highest bidder for North Korean-style displays of dictatorial prowess.
God help football.
If you enjoyed this, please buy my book “The Ugly Game: How Football Lost Its Magic And What It Could Learn From The NFL”. That way I’ll have the money to write more things you might like. Oh, and please spread the word, too. Thanks a lot.