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Pressure For 'Rooney Rule' Mounts On English Football

Monday 6th October 2014
English football is in a time warp. While the first black player to play for the full national team was Viv Anderson in the late 70's, almost 40 years on can we really imagine a black man managing our national team, or even any of our top club sides? Recent years have seen this issue questioned several times but still nothing has changed and we are in a position now in 2014 where there are only 2 black managers in the 92 clubs competing in the English professional game. Given that around a quarter of the players that play in the Premier League and Football League are black or from other ethnic minority groups, it is clear that there is a disconnect between the number of ethnic minority members in the game, and the number of ethnic minority members in the running of it.

Many ideas have been put forward as to why this may be, with Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief citing a “hidden resistance” in football to appointing black managers. Some claim that racism is still a bigger problem in football than most people realise. Only this year Sol Campbell claimed that he would have been England captain for 10 years had he been white, although this is something that even other campaigners for race equality in football like Paul Ince have disputed. But it does make you wonder, just how far this nation has come in terms of eradicating racism from the game.
There is little doubt that the discrimination that black and other ethnic minority players faced from fans during the 70's and 80's has largely been wiped out of English football since then. It's testament to how much this has changed that it seems so shocking to us when we see or hear racist chanting in games in other, less liberal parts of the UEFA map such as Russia, Spain and Poland. However, in a society which purports to be an equal one, a fair one, and one where the colour of your skin is not what matters when you apply for a job, the nations' biggest sport should be taking the lead in equality of all types, not being publically called-to-question over a blatant lack of ethnic minority personnel involved. It now seems apparent that while the game is fulfilling its role in preaching the message of equality, it may not be practicing them.

Given that in the past few years English football has been disgraced by the national captain of the time John Terry being found guilty of calling another player a “N****r” on the pitch, Luis Suarez racially abusing Patrice Evra (and then subsequently being backed to the hills by one of our biggest club sides, Liverpool), and the continuity of a lack of openness over homosexuality within the game, you would imagine that the games' authorities would have taken action to distance the game and indeed themselves from the idea that bigotry is endemic within football. Since no such action has been taken though we can only presume that the powers that be are either protecting the prejudices within the game, or simply that they don't care about eradicating those prejudices that remain.

It isn't as if ideas haven't been pitched to the authorities in this country before. In researching for this article I stumbled upon a BBC article from September 2011 entitled ‘Adopting the Rooney Rule in English football'. There is an interview embedded into the article with American Lawyer Cyrus Mehri, one of the people behind imposing the ‘Rooney rule' on American football. At the end of the interview he states “I am confident, that when they study this issue, they are going to reach the same conclusion that the owners of the NFL reached which is, it may not be perfect, but there is no better solution and we have to address this issue”. For sure this was a man promoting a system he felt positive and passionate about, it is not necessarily the only option for our national game, but the fact that no improvements have been made in the last three years points to an acceptance of the current situation within the game.

While for a long time we have all known of the lack of black faces in the leadership of our game, there has been little or nothing done to change that. Listening to those words from Mr Mehri three years on knowing that not only has the ‘Rooney rule' not been emplaced, but that we have now exactly the same number of black managers' at our top 92 clubs as we did then is something of a chilling experience; and one which cannot do anything but make you question just why nothing has been done yet? Are we really in such a state where football authorities have to force clubs to simply give black or ethnic minority face an interview for managerial posts? The fact that this issue rears its head every few years points out the cyclical nature of the problem in football. Now the authorities must take some form of action which will at least go some way to ending that cycle.

‘Kick it out' has spoken out saying that the ‘Rooney rule' should be introduced, and labelled the current situation ‘predictably unfair, exclusive and discriminatory'. It is so sad that we find ourselves in this position in 2014, but it seems that the clubs, all of whom are signed up to anti-racism schemes such as ‘Kick it out', are themselves in need of a kick in the right direction. Nobody wants to hear stories of black managers being given interviews up and down the country that they have no chance of getting just so that clubs adhere to the ‘Rooney rule' but if eventually leads to one of the most embarrassing and shameful cases of racial inequality in sport left in this country, then it is something well worth doing.
Declan Fisher
Journalism student at University of Salford, football enthusiast & blogger.

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