Manchester MP backs Rooney Rule to tackle 97% white football coach system

A Manchester MP has called for a UK ‘Rooney Rule’ to be introduced after recent research revealed that there were only 19 black and ethnic minority coaches in the 552 top coaching positions in English Clubs.

The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires US National Football teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Something that Liberal Democrat MP John Leech is adamant needs to change. 

It is sometimes cited as an example of affirmative action, though there is no quota or preference given to minorities in the hiring of candidates. 

“It’s clear that in America it’s made an enormous difference and something more needs to be done to try and break down the barriers for BME sports people to get into governance and managerial positions in football,” Leech told MM.

“BME people account for around 25% of professional footballers – compared to an overall 14% of the population.

“They excel in the game at a playing level, but then when you get down to management and governance in football, we have derisory numbers getting through.

 “One of the sad realities is that 10 years ago there were actually more BME managers in the game than there are now.

“People often say it’s a slow process and over time it won’t be a problem, but we’ve actually gone backwards rather than forwards. It’s another reason why intervention is required because we’re not making slow progress, we’re making no progress.”

The Liberal Democrat MP believes that there are significant barriers preventing BME sports people getting interviews for management and coaching roles— Never mind actually landing the role.

“There is clearly a blockage in the system for those talented people to get through and we need to do something drastic,” he added.

“They need to get through to the stage where they can actually state their case as to why they would be the best person for the job.

“No one’s saying that they would then get the job, but I think it’s clear from America that it’s had a positive impact in terms of getting talented BME candidates into positions of responsibility.

 “At a meeting I was at yesterday, a former professional footballer said he’d had only had three interviews in three years for jobs and there is clearly a barrier. We’ve got a proven way of ensuring that BME sports people have that opportunity.”

Leech felt a barrier in preventing BME candidates from landing roles in football was the occurrence of some managers hiring their friends in coaching positions instead of extending the opportunity to other candidates.

“The general way it works these days is that when a manager goes to a new club, they take their whole coaching team with them.

“If you’ve got a white manager and white backroom staff that have worked with that manager, it clearly restricts the opportunities to other people because they tend to surround themselves by their mates.

“There’s clearly something wrong and it’s certainly in the lower divisions. People give jobs to people that they know rather than people who are talented.

“There doesn’t seem to be a block on BME people getting on the coaching courses, but they’re not being given the chance to take up those positions afterwards.”

The South Manchester MP said that issues like this meant that BME sports people were being discouraged to apply for roles.

“It’s more the case that they don’t think there’s any point in trying because they won’t be successful.

“My understanding is that Ian Wright has made the point that he wouldn’t be afforded the same opportunity and therefore chose a different career path. I think that’s the general consensus amongst former BME footballers.”

Leech also felt some chairmen may be reluctant to hire a BME manager because imported players from foreign countries, where racism is rifer, may react badly to them.

“It might be an additional barrier. I would sincerely hope that isn’t the case because surely we’ve got to challenge all those racist views. If there are players coming into the Premier League from other countries holding those views, they need to be challenged and dealt with very firmly.

 “It was suggested that some clubs may just err on the side of caution and avoid the situation where the player may have an ethnic minority manager who he may then take issue with.”

Current Carlisle United manager and former Manchester City captain Keith Curle, one of only two BME managers in the English Football League, said a UK ‘Rooney Rule’ would be a pointless exercise,

Leech disagreed saying: “I can understand why people would be sceptical about whether it would make a difference.

“The thing I would say to counter that is that it’s had a positive effect in America. What have we got to lose to try it and see what an impact it has?”

Main image courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald, with thanks

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