Expert Opinion

English Football is a White Institution

In this blog post, Professor Jonathan Long and Professor Kevin Hylton from the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Beckett University, assess the potential benefits of introducing the Rooney rule to the UK.

Published on 09 Dec 2014

Ten years ago the Observer reported on the lack of black managers in the professional game. In a return to the issues in that article the same reporter, Anna Kessel, argues that things have got worse and that the issue is threatening to undermine the integrity of the game (the Observer 2014).

Despite the number of black players in English football, we have commented before that there are few black people elsewhere in the game, whether in employment or in the stands.  This has been re-emphasised recently in a report funded by FARE and carried out by Steve Bradbury / Sports Person's Think Tank that found only 19 of the 'top' 552 coaching positions at professional English clubs were held by black and minority ethnic (BME) coaches.

Recent studies conducted by us in the Research Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure for the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Sports Coach UK, have concluded that there is a glass ceiling, lack of diversity, lack of transparency, and qualitative differences in how BME players and coaches experience their sport. Coaches from a black and minority ethnic background have struggled to access institutional networks to facilitate their progress and this is writ large in professional football.

Hence the clamour for the introduction of the Rooney rule that has had some measure of success in the United States. Among other things, Anna Kessel in her article argued in favour of the Rooney Rule as a partial fix for the racialised problems in football from the stands to the boardroom, and just a week ago Greg Dyke, Chair of the Football Association was recommending its adoption. The idea is that at least one person from a BME group should appear on the shortlist for managerial appointments. This might usefully be extended to other football posts because, although there are few black managers, there is no better representation among match officials or senior administrators or in the board rooms.

There is much to be said in favour of adopting some version of the Rooney rule, but it cannot stand alone. It has to be accompanied by measures to ensure that candidates have had the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to allow them to do the job (being a good footballer is not enough), whether that be in management/coaching, officiating or administration of the sport.

In drawing attention to these shortcomings in football we do not want to detract from some of the positive contributions that the game has made to promoting racial understanding. And of course, it is very convenient to berate football for a lack of representation when there are few people from black and minority ethnic groups in senior positions in the media or universities. But it is uncomfortable to look closer to home.

Steve Bradbury has a chapter in the collection edited by Professors Jonathan Long and Karl Spracklen on challenging racism in sport. Long, J. and Spracklen, K. (2011) Sport and Challenges to Racism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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