Why are black and minority ethnic (BME) groups being rejected by football?

Last week, a report published by Dr Stephen Bradbury of Loughborough University found that only a measly 3.4% of top coaching positions in English football clubs are occupied by black and ethnic minorities (BME).  In other words just 19 out of 552 senior positions are filled by BME.

Yaya Toure is one of the highest profile BME players currently playing in the Premier League but will any clubs want him for coaching or managerial roles in the future?

This is a shocking and depressing statistic, especially as a quarter of players in English football leagues come from BME backgrounds and many of these players are loved by fans for their excellent skill and admirable technical quality (take Danny Welbeck, Yaya Toure and Andros Townsend for example). Yet once these players retire and earn their coaching badges, it would appear that English clubs aren’t interested in what they can offer. The aforementioned study concluded that “institutional discrimination” is present in English football and drastic work is needed in order to increase the number of BME coaches. A target of 20% of all coaches to be BME by the year 2020 has been set by the Sport’s Person’s Think Tank (SPTT). After years of campaigns calling for fans, referees and players to ‘kick out’ racism on the pitch, it is sad that, behind the scenes, a worrying issue has been left to accumulate whereby BME individuals are barely invited for interviews, let alone hired by football clubs.

Various reasons have been suggested for the lack of BME managers; one of which is that people are scared to put themselves forward for senior positions in fear of overt racism they may receive from fans and even their own players. Several incidences of racism towards black players, especially when playing in Europe, have been recorded recently and it is likely that attitudes could transpose to managers and coaches too. There appears to be an undercurrent of racial discrimination among seniors in football, with some BME coaches being exposed to racial ‘banter’ and even explicit name calling, according to the published study. Other reasons include the recruitment processes used in football. Marcus Gayle, now manager of Conference club Staines, told BBC Radio 5 Live that, in his opinion, not enough was being done to increase the presence of BME coaches in football. He argued that jobs were being filled based upon network-styles of recruitment, i.e. who you know, rather than judgements on ability. Therefore, few BME individuals are given a chance to show their managerial skills and instead are reduced to working only in part-time or supporting roles. Gayle argues that: “you can have top-class black managers in the same way as you can have top-class black players. It is not just an opinion now, it is an argument based on facts, reason and logic.”

In order to try and alter this sorry state of affairs, the chairman of the Football League Greg Clarke has suggested implementing something called the ‘Rooney Rule’ during recruitment. The ‘Rooney Rule’ (nothing to do with Wayne) is used in the NFL and states that there must be at least one BME candidate for every senior position advertised. This would allow more BME coaches to at least get their feet in the door and increase their chances of being hired. Some people are against the implementation of this rule as it suggests that BME coaches are being hired merely to fill quotas. However, there is no contingency that BME candidates will be hired; the rule is there in order to allow them the same opportunities as others in the recruitment process.

It may be a long time before the number of BME senior staff is equivalent with the number of BME players in English football (around 25%). Nevertheless, something has to change soon in order that the recruitment of senior roles in football becomes a fairer, and less discriminatory, process.


Photo credit: Илья Хохлов

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