Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Rooney Rule

This is the subject that will not go away. Surprisingly for a Sports Law Blog, this is not another post about our pug faced sometime England star striker. With racism stories swirling around English Football and various summit meetings being promised to address the rifts and conflicts which appear to trouble the game, attention is increasingly focussing on the lack of 'ethnic' representation in the management of the game.


The lessons from the USA with regard to attempts to address similar problems in the NFL are increasingly being raised here.
The Rooney rule, which came into effect in the USA in 2003 was named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who advocated it . The rule was brought in by the National Football League (NFL) and was designed to proactively address the near total absence of ethnic minority coaches in the league. Until 2003 only 8 ethnic minority coaches had held senior positions.
 The rules requires ethnic minority coaches to be interviewed for vacant positions of Head Coach or for Senior positions within the operation of the team. Since the advent of the rule the percentage of ethnic minorities in such positions has risen from 6 to 22%. Affirmative action is nonetheless controversial and may well infringe equality laws in this country. There are nonetheless many things which could be done to address the current situation.
In England of the 92 fully professional clubs, only Chris Hughton (Norwich), Chris Powell (Charlton) and Keith Curle of Notts County (but sacked since I wrote this article) hold Head Coach or managerial positions (you can add in Edgar Davids from Holland who recently took over at Barnet).
Paul Ince has also got back in at Blackpool in the Championship.
In a surprise move last season Wolves sacked Mick McCarthy and replaced him with Terry Connor, his assistant. I say surprisingly, because although this might appear to show enlightenment on the part of a Premier League club, in fact Wolves trawled through a list of the 'usual suspects' all of whom rejected the opportunity, before looking within their own staff. Nonetheless the appointment was initially greeted by many with enthusiasm. It did however beg the question as to why Mick McCarthy was sacked if he is only to be replaced by his number two. Steve Morgan, chairman, proclaimed that Wolves had nothing to be embarrassed about. Fair enough, but if so why was he making that statement at all? We all know that this 'experiment' ended in tears with Wolves relegated and Connor sacked. This should not in any way reflect upon the issues here, Connor was simply not ready or perhaps suited to the particular role of manager and Wolves evidently were a club in crisis well before before he took the helm.

The Professional Footballer's Association is very much in favour of our own Rooney Rule, but the Premier League is resistant. Richard Scudamore, Head of the Premier League  stated last season that with only 20 managerial places available there is no place for quotas. He believes that a meritocracy will address the issue. The facts seem to disprove this. Paul Davis, former Arsenal midfielder, and now PFA representative, believes that the rule would encourage black candidates to step forward and enable them to have a chance. At present there is a merry go round with the same (white) faces being put forward for every job. When Steve Bruce was sacked last season at Sunderland , the club immediately identified Martin O'Neill as their desired replacement. He came from the pool of proven and safe talent. Whilst O'Neill may well have proved to be the best candidate in any event, the process itself acts against any fresh blood entering the fray. O'Neill more than demonstrated the wisdom of his appointment by leading Sunderland away from a relegation struggle and towards the upper reaches of the Premier League. The recycled merry go round however ultimately leads to a certain staleness and English football management no longer reflects its players and fans. 25% of players are now from ethnic minorities. England is undoubtedly a successful multi cultural society. Steps should now be taken to bring this success and diversity of approach into the national sport.
With the controversies of recent months and multiple calls for dialogue, the latest by the Ferdinand brothers, now is the perfect time for decisive action. Lawyers however suggest that the Rooney Rule is incompatible with English Equality laws.

Time for Creative Thinking

Whilst quotas cannot be set for interviewing black or ethnic candidates, clubs and governing bodies can adopt measures to encourage the participation of groups of candidates who are (demonstrably here) under represented. Positive action is different from positive discrimination. The EU has ruled that positive action is not unlawful unless it requires automatic and unconditional preference.
A wider pool of talent needs to be considered for managerial positions. This programme needs to start with existing players being encouraged and facilitated to participate in coaching programmes (take their UEFA badges)  and to be permitted to genuinely believe that their prospects are equal to those of others. 'Encouragement' can take many forms.
It is significant to note that Hughton, Powell, Curle and Connor have come through the PFA and LMA’s Certificate course for football managers at Warwick University (my thanks to Dr Sue Bridgewater). 
Although it does not get the recognition it deserves, the PFA and LMA are doing constructive things behind the scenes. The LMA has been an active member of the PFA’s Black Coaches Forum for nearly 10 years now. Black coaches or potential black coaches are encouraged and assisted to apply for positions with clubs. They are able to attend FA and PFA coaching and  management courses to facilitate this.  There is a  Black Coaches Forum which regularly gathers to pool its experiences and to promote the development of black coaches and to assist them to find management roles in professional football (thanks again to Dr Bridgewater, Warwick University, for the insight).
Clubs need to advertise and to specifically welcome applications from under represented areas, although of course the final decision has to be based upon objective criteria.
A very welcome development  is anticipated this week. Paul Elliott, ex Chelsea and Celtic amongst others, is set to become the first black Chairman of a Football League club at Charlton Athletic (they are now in the vanguard of this issue). Many black players/potential coaches have felt that the composition of the FA and boardrooms ('white, old and conservative') constitutes a bar to their advancement. This move can only be applauded as a first step in the right direction.
If black candidates believe they will be given opportunities they will participate.
Rio and other high profile figures please step forward.
At a recent debate I was particularly struck by the pride with which black people spoke of the recent NFL game at Wembley where both Head Coaches were black.
UPDATE 17.3.13
Brian Deane (ex Leeds and Sheffield Utd striker amongst others) has annmounced that he is leaving English football and trying his luck in Norway with Sarpsborg. He is reported as saying 'It's a closed shop in England. No one is willing to embrace new ideas or give new people a chance. I'm not the kind of person to get a job off my reputation as a player'.
What position have we reached where a well respected English professional feels he will be better off and find a more receptive audience abroad than at home?

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