Rooney Rule offers real hope for change in English football

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Racism in football. It’s an issue that has been dominating headlines in recent days and weeks after comments from Jose Mourinho that it does not exist within the game.

“There is no racism in football. If you are good, you get the job,” said the Special One. If only it were that simple.

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Mourinho’s remarks have not been met with a chorus of agreement, after players’ chief Gordon Taylor suggested racism was ‘hidden' within the game.

FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb went a step further, claiming that it's overt in English football and that action must be taken to stamp it out.

Not hidden

“I don’t know how it could be hidden. You have 92 clubs, you have two coaches of colour. How many board members or executives are in various club positions or at the FA, in Uefa? So, it’s not hidden,” he said at the Leaders in Sport conference.

“It’s hidden from a discussion standpoint. No-one wants to deal with it. No-one wants to deal with it from a commercial standpoint.”

Webb is also the CONCACAF president and heading up the governing body’s anti-racism and discrimination task force. His voice will be heard at the top table of football.

The big question is, who's listening on these shores? Sooner or later, somebody will have to, and it’s a look to America that can provide the answer. The ‘Rooney Rule’ seems simple, and in truth, it is at the very basic level.

Interview process

Every team must interview a person of ethnic minority for any senior football position - from head coach to general manager. Forget the rest, that’s the simple key point that can be transferred across to football.

The results are unquestionable. Implemented in 2003 and named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s Diversity committee, it saw an increase in black head coaches from six percent to 22% in just three years. It also led to the Detroit Lions being fined for not interviewing an African-American candidate.

This is perhaps a good example to highlight for the world of football. The Lions hired Steve Mariucci almost immediately - much like how football clubs attempt to go about their business - but still received a $200,000 fine for not going through the correct procedure.

A starting point

It’s the only fine of its nature in the National Football League, and whilst questions have recently been asked whether the rule goes far enough in America, it offers a fine starting point for both the Premier League and Football League to implement.

We would all like to believe that, as Mourinho says, if you’re good enough, you get the job. The rest is irrelevant. But, the reality is that it’s not happening - of that, Webb is convinced.

“In this day and time, in this era, in this century, should we really be having to mandate opportunities for qualified individuals? Sadly, the answer is yes,” he added.

“It has to come within. It has to come from the clubs. It has to start with clubs. It has to start with ownership."

US owner influence?

Given the growing American influence in the Premier League, Webb went on to suggest that the likes of Stan Kronke and Randy Lerner should be doing more to make this happen.

“How many American owners do we have from English Premier League clubs in the UK? So, why have certain standards here and then, in the NFL, you live by different standards?”

Not all the voices in football believe the Rooney Rule can work. Keith Curle, one of only two black managers among the 92, fears it could become a box-ticking exercise, whilst FA consultant Brendon Batson points to a lack of coaches from a minority ethnic background as the real problem.

Both fears are legitimate. Would clubs just interview for the hell of it and then look elsewhere anyway? The stats from the NFL suggest no. The turnover of managers is also much higher in English football, and there are many more positions that become available. This should work as a benefit for coaches like Eddie Newton, who Webb highlighted as a bright young coach struggling to get a chance at the top.

Tomlin's example of success

Mike Tomlin, the former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, experienced similar problems in America before landing that job and going on to lead his side to Super Bowl glory. He still holds the position and is yet to have a losing season.

And even if the rule was just a tick boxing exercise to start with, does that really matter? If a club is forced to interview a candidate they would not have originally, then it puts the black or ethnic minority coach in the shop window, so to speak. It’s a chance they previously wouldn’t have got. That can only be a positive.

Batson’s point on coaches will also need to be addressed at the highest level. The root of this whole problem lays here. But, with no role models to aspire to, why would a young person from a black or minority ethnic background want to pursue such a career? This rule can change that.

The ‘Rooney Rule’ would also offer hope to professional black players within the game, who see the racial barriers that are currently blocking their path to a job post-playing career. Chris Powell and Keith Curle alone in the top positions simply does not offer a true reflection of the game of football.

Nothing to lose

Rooney himself believes football has 'nothing to lose' by introducing the rule in England.

"It's not going to force teams to hire anybody. That's their decision and they have to do a good job," the 82-year-old told the BBC.

Just because this has 'nothing to lose' doesn't mean it should be implemented. It should be implemented because it can make a real change to the landscape of football.

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Premier League
Chris Powell

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