A Dangerous Precedent

The Rooney Rule and Why it’s Implementation is a Danger to the Equality Movement in Football.



English football has been rocked in recent weeks by the entrance of a debate, which has bubbled under the surface for years, into the mainstream media. What makes this debate even more incendiary and impassioned is the topic; racism and equality. I am talking of course of the debate over the possible implementation of the ‘Rooney Rule’. Debates over race and equality are always precarious by nature, but this debate shook English football for a whole other reason. For many years now English football has left behind the hooligan image, for many years it has lead the way among European clubs on this issue. Accusations of active or open racism in the upper echelons of English football are uncharacteristic and the issue is thought to be all but behind us. But as the debate rumbled the accusations intensified, from Gordon Taylor’s claim of a ‘hidden resistance’ to black managers, to Jason Roberts claims of ‘open resistance’, to Kick It Out’s statement that managerial hiring processes are “unfair, exclusive and discriminatory”, to the most recent claim from Jeffrey Webb, FIFA Vice-President, claiming that racism in English Football is overt. So the debate has raged, but as both sides have argued and accused, the argument has been somewhat lost. Here then we will ask the simple question; is the Rooney Rule in the best interests of Football and equality in the sport?

Is Patience a Virtue?

Sir Trevor Brooking, on the right, believes patience is the solution.

Sir Trevor Brooking, on the right, believes patience is the solution.

Sir Trevor Brooking stated at the first of this month that he was not in favour of the Rooney Rule, his argument was simple; “Given the number of players from all backgrounds, it would be madness if in five or 10 years’ time that’s not reflected in the coaching. I’m sure we’ll have 10 out of 92, 20 out of 92, that over a period of time will be from the different ethic mixes.” He urged patience and from where I stand he was right to do so. Though the race debate has progressed leaps and bounds over the years the speed of this progression has come at a cost. That cost is quite simply a hangover. Within 30 years racism in English football has gone from outward, active and obvious to almost non-existent. That being said the hangover from the readiness of this progress is obvious; a lack of black or mixed race coaches and managers in the game. Why has this happened? Back in the day when racism was strife there were not all that many black or mixed race players, not like today where black and mixed race footballers make up 25% of the Premier League. This means that there are fewer players who would have gone onto coaching and management, especially considering the circumstances of the game many of them may have felt alienated by their experiences. So, though the numbers of players nowadays who are black or mixed race are high we should not confuse or revise recent history, that there are less ex-players of an appropriate age and of necessary experience of a black or mixed race background available to prop up the numbers. Even the statistics do not make for shocking reading. Of the 192 Uefa Pro Licence holders in England just 14 of those are black coaches and when you consider that of this entire figure only a minority of them will ever get the top job it begins to make sense that there are only two black managers in England’s top 4 divisions.

(From right to left) PFA Chief Exec Gordon Taylor, FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb and FA Chairman Greg Dyke are all in favour of the Rooney Rule.

(From right to left) PFA Chief Exec Gordon Taylor, FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb and FA Chairman Greg Dyke are all in favour of the Rooney Rule.

This isn’t to try and justify it, this is to simply understand that the reason there are so few black or mixed race coaches is down to more than just racism, it’s down to societal progression only having happened recently and not enough time having passed. This is where Brooking’s argument comes in, that patience is what is needed. Even now things are looking up; as it stands around 18% of those on the PFA coaching courses are black or from other ethnic minorities and with around 25% of players in the English professional game non-white that number will only increase as they come to the end of their career. Also many of these players have very different experiences and barriers in the modern game; they are unlikely to have experienced ‘overt’ racism in the professional game, and they will have been playing for the biggest clubs, winning trophies and gaining burgeoning reputations that will do them wonders in their post playing career. Without interference within 20 years the face of the game will be radically different and there will be a far greater and more representative number of black or mixed race coaches in the game, it’s a natural evolution of a greater societal progression. Recommending patience may sound contrived, it may sound like apathy or inaction, but in reality it is the only option guaranteed to succeed and interfering now could be even more dangerous than doing nothing.

An Unforeseen Consequence

Kick It Out have also come out in favour of the Rooney Rule.

Kick It Out have also come out in favour of the Rooney Rule.

Many will now be thinking at this point ‘Sure, we could wait, but we need action now’. They say things like there is no harm in trying, or as Dan Rooney states that there is “Nothing to lose.” by implementing such a plan. So far as I can see these people are being extremely short sighted and are unable to see the consequences such action could have on a fast changing world. If this rule is brought into the game it cannot be removed, there is no ‘end date’ to the Rooney Rule, no mission accomplished move on moment for it. Once it is their it will be near impossible to eradicate. Within 20 years, and likely much sooner, the game will have advanced beyond the need for such a rule as the game and our society continues to evolve, but what happens when our society has evolved but a rule like this still exists? We have another hangover moment, a moment where elements of an undesirable past seep through to undesired effects. If the Rooney Rule exists, then it exists forever. Black and mixed race coaches would have to live in a world where clubs were forced to interview them, even if the disparity were equalised and there were a representative number of coaches. This hangover of the mind-set of the now, of the past, could negatively affect these coaches as the rules of the game were stuck in a time that this was necessary. Many might not see this as a problem, but for me this rule stands to hold the future very much in the past, as clubs being forced to interview a black coach, regardless of whether or not they were intending to hire them anyway, will be stuck in the mind-set where such action is requirement, not a choice. That element of racial inequality, which so lingers now from our negative past, will be entrenched in the rules of the game and will be an anchor against which our natural progression cannot pull away.

Though this rule might have positive effects in the short term my very real fear is that this rule, codified in the laws of our game, could make it impossible to ever truly move away from the issues that make it necessary, that it could stop the natural progression towards an inclusive, tolerant and fair sport that is otherwise inevitable. We are already seeing the hangover from our last era of racial inequality; let us not willingly create another.

Success in the NFL

The obvious counter to this whole argument of course comes from its origin point; the NFL. In the NFL they introduced Rooney Rule in 2003 and have had success with an increase of black or minority coaches. It has not been without controversy however, with numerous incidents of franchises not interviewing any candidates. Overall though the move was a success and many hope to replicate its fortunes here, however this is a bad example to give as a comparison. The reasons for this are remarkably simple; The UK and the USA are culturally and socially very different, American Football and Association Football are too different a sport for an effective comparison and finally the UK and the USA have had very different histories and experiences with the issue of racial equality. As of 2012 over 60% of players in the NFL were African American, compared to just 25% of players in the English game being black or mixed race. In Britain the population that is black or mixed race is around 4%, where as in America that number is closer to 13%. Prior to the rules introduction there had been just 5 black or mixed race head coaches in the US, and when you consider the sheer volume of players who are black or mixed race in the sport, immediate action was much more imminently required. Race and racial politics have been much more potent and public in the US then they have been in the UK as well, this issue is out in the open and in the mainstream, in both support and opposition, with racism still rife in the US. In the UK however racism is a background issue, existent more in the form of xenophobia and problems over foreigners then of distinctly racial concerns.

This isn’t to say the Rooney Rule couldn’t work in football, this is just to say that those pointing out the successes it has had in the NFL do perhaps not understand the context. In the US these issues are much more open and overt and dramatic, immediate change was necessary to balance the obvious equality gap. What works in the NFL would not necessarily work here and the comparison is not a useful one.

The Capitulation of the Mainstream

Jason Roberts has been vehement in his support of the rule, condemning Jose Mourinho's opposition.

Jason Roberts has been vehement in his support of the rule, condemning Jose Mourinho’s opposition.

Their exists one final issue with this debate and that issue is that simply not enough people, of the standard and repute, are challenging this rule. This isn’t because they just know better, this isn’t because success is all but guaranteed. This is because people are afraid to be in opposition, this is because there is no viable alternative other than patience. In the modern world, one of political correctness and one where just the accusation of racism is enough to ruin a career, rather than any proof of it, to argue against an equality movement is dangerous territory, even if your argument is that this action endangers the very movement it is trying to support. To argue against any equality promoting argument or rule is to be seen as against equality. It is not too far a leap from here to accusations of racism, which, as John Terry will attest to, can be devastating to one’s career, as even though he was proven innocent by a court, he was still stripped of the England captaincy and essentially forced into an early retirement. Both the mainstream media and officials alike are so fearful of any negative branding that they do not oppose this rule, even if it has the potential to be more harm than good over the long term. I do not believe this applies to all those who speak favourably of this rule, rather this applies to those who have remained silent. This is why issues of racism and racial equality are such precarious ones, because any opposition, however good the intentions, can easily end up being conflated with racism. If this issue gets forced through then I believe it will be the work of a very loud minority over-shouting an otherwise passive majority, issues of meritocracy and the lack of necessity have already been raised by a number of prominent mangers, from Jose Mourinho to Keith Curle, one of only two currently standing black or mixed races managers in the football league. Mourinho predictably had his comments taken wildly out of context by the media and Jason Roberts, proponent of the Rooney Rule, all but accused Mourinho of being a racist on his twitter.

(From right to left) Carlisle manager Keith Curle and Huddersfield manager Chris Powell are the only two black or mixed race coaches in the top four divisions. Curle has openly stated he does not support the implementation of the Rooney Rule.

(From right to left) Carlisle manager Keith Curle and Huddersfield manager Chris Powell are the only two black or mixed race coaches in the top four divisions. Curle has openly stated he does not support the implementation of the Rooney Rule.

To quote Mourinho “There is no racism in football.” at least not open, or active or obvious. Rather racism in football merely exists as a parodying caricature of itself from its opposition, who rightly so seek to undermine and remove it from the game. As it stands no real debate is being had on this and no real debate can possibly be had, not whilst the supporters of this rule are so quick to overtly imply that those in opposition are merely racist, or that the reason this issue exists is racism and nothing else. No professional in the game would dare enter that arena and forever have their name associated with this debate in opposition and tar their reputation evermore. Those few who have were shouted down as quickly as they spoke up.

Jose Mourinho has been slammed for his opposition to the Rooney Rule.

Jose Mourinho has been slammed for his opposition to the Rooney Rule.

Until we are capable of having a real debate and reaching some intelligible compromise or new idea for this issue I shall remain in opposition to the Rooney Rule. It is not because I am a racist, or because I fear change, it is the opposite. I am an egalitarian, I believe in equality through humanity above all else. I strive and stand in hope of a world in which racial and ethnic distinctions are nought but classifications on a page in the same way as hair or eye colour. I fear that the Rooney Rule serves to undermine that future, a future that is naturally coming. I fear that in an effort to expedite this progression we serve to hammer in the tent-poles that will forever preserve the kind of thinking we are trying to eradicate. For now I urge patience for all those wishing to see this problem resolved, it is only a matter of time and interfering could make the wait far longer than we could have ever imagined.


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