Will the FA's 'Rooney Rule' diversity efforts pay off?
Nick Tsatsas, January 12, 2018
Even if adoption takes time to produce notable results the initiative should be embraced; ethnic minorities are clearly under-represented in English football
The Football Association (FA) had something of a bad year in 2017, attracting widespread criticism for the way it handled England Women’s Eniola Aluko’s complaints of racism, its sacking of former England Women’s head coach Mark Sampson, and the lamentable appearance of its senior executives before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in October.
Each of these scandals exposed the FA’s governance, grievance and investigatory processes as inadequate, so it comes as no surprise that it has begun trying to rebuild its damaged reputation by announcing a number of initiatives designed to “better demonstrate [its] leadership” in relation to inclusion and anti-discrimination best practice.
Among other initiatives, the FA has acknowledged that it was “lacking in a grievance and whistleblowing policy for [its] national teams” and accordingly, it has now produced such policies in partnership with government association UK Sport. The policies have not yet been published, but one hopes that (among other things) they will enable elite players to make a complaint without jeopardising their place in a team – a fate seemingly suffered by a number of high-profile British female athletes in recent years.
However, the initiative that attracted the most publicity is the FA’s commitment to “adopt the principles of a voluntary Rooney Rule [within] the England team setup”. The Rooney Rule was implemented by America’s National Football League (NFL) in 2003 to ensure that ethnic minority candidates are considered for head coaching jobs. Former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, then head of the NFL’s diversity group, introduced the rule that teams must interview ethnic minority candidates for senior coaching jobs. It has proved to be effective: the 2017 NFL season began with seven African-American head coaches and one Latino – a record representation for ethnic minorities at the highest level of the game.
The FA has now indicated that it will apply these principles to all frontline coaching roles, including the England manager’s job. Consequently, at least one black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) candidate will be interviewed for a vacancy when it arises, so long as the candidate’s application meets the relevant technical criteria.
Sadly, in the short term, very few candidates are likely to meet the relevant technical criteria. A recent report revealed that, of the 482 leading coaching roles across clubs in England’s top four divisions, just 22 belong to BAME coaches. There are only four BAME managers in the entire English Football League, and just one in the English Premier League; as such there is an extremely shallow pool of BAME coaches with high-level coaching/managerial experience in this country at present, so very few British candidates will even qualify for consideration.
Perhaps this will mean that, for the foreseeable future, the FA will have to consider candidates from overseas (which may lead to accusations of a failure by the FA to support British coaches and managers) if it is to comply with its self-imposed Rooney Rule obligations. However, even if adoption of the Rooney Rule in English football takes some time to produce notable results, the initiative should still be embraced; ethnic minorities are clearly under-represented in the coaching and managerial ranks in English football, and any committed attempt to address that under-representation is to be welcomed.
However, will these inclusivity initiatives ever truly succeed when the administrators charged with implementing them lack diversity themselves? Why did the FA limit the adoption of the Rooney Rule to the coaching ranks, and not take the opportunity to extend it to any administrative roles under the governing body’s auspices? Until the FA commits to reforming itself, and not just the game it oversees, its motives and efficiency will continue to be questioned. For an organisation that has always given the impression of being preoccupied with its public profile, this very obvious failure to address the issue of internal reform remains a glaring omission.
Nick Tsatsas is a consultant solicitor at Keystone Law