The FA Embraces The Rooney Rule

Opinion

The Rooney Rule has been mentioned a great deal in the sport news over the past week or so, and is something which to fans of the NFL, like myself, is relatively commonplace. Unlike Sky Sports News, I am not going to patronise you by sensationalising it and saying “BREAKING NEWS, ROONEY RULE HAS F**K-ALL TO DO WITH WAYNE ROONEY” in that stupid black and yellow ticker tape that they haul out whenever Pep Guardiola sneezes or Jürgen Klopp says something charmingly quirky. Instead, I will simply tell you what the Rooney Rule is and why it is both an excellent decision to implement it in English football, and why it is simply quite scandalous that it has taken until 2018 to make the important decision to use it. As fair warning, there will be a fair amount of mentions to the NFL, for those of you reading with the (wrong) mentality that “American football is just rugby with stupid pads”, please persevere. The issue of racial discrimination in all sports is truly sickening, and I believe everybody can benefit from being a little more clued up on the issue.

So, what is the Rooney Rule? It is quite simple. It is a rule which originated in the United States of America, set up by the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, in 2003. The premise was that there was a severe lack of African-American and minority coaches in the NFL, and that the issue of racial inequality was still prominent. This was highlighted after two prominent coaches within the league, Tony Dungy and Dennis Green, were fired off the back of two respectable seasons for their teams. The Rooney Rule ensures that for every head coach position available in the league, a minimum of one ethnic minority coach must be interview. This is a rule that has been tweaked and altered throughout the past fifteen years. In the NFL, the Rooney Rule has been branched out to encompass all coaching positions.

The FA have confirmed that the Rooney Rule will be applied throughout all 92 professional English Football League clubs, in a move to help get BAME (black, Asian, minority, ethnic) managers the exposure that many deserve. This is a strategy that is desperately needed in the UK. The FA confirmed that it will use the Rooney Rule throughout all tiers of English football, both men’s and women’s, from the lowest division up to the England managers job in the future. It will apply not only to managerial changes, but also backroom staff.

Why is the Rooney Rule so badly needed? Well, think how many BAME football players there are in the top four divisions in English football. Over 25% of players in the league set-up in England are of ethnic minority backgrounds, while that number skyrockets when the term is broadened to non-UK citizens. And yet the number of BAME managers… five. Five out of the 92 managers positions in the English football league. That is little over 5%, a scandalously low number. The men are Chris Hughton, at Brighton, Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Northampton, Keith Curle at Carlisle and Jack Lester at Chesterfield. To go through every member of staff at every League club in England is above my capabilities, and while I may not have figures for this, the numbers are still evidently far too low. It simply does not add up. How can so many BAME players take the field in England, yet so few step into management and coaching roles?

I am not insinuating that the owners of so many teams are inherently racist, not at all. I believe that the issue is a mixture of problems. I feel that the overriding theme with coaches is familiarity. Who is a “safe pair of hands?” Aging white managers always top the list, regardless of how many failures they have against their names. Take Tony Pulis going to Middlesbrough, a man renowned for being a relegation survival specialist, hired to boost Boro towards promotion. It doesn’t quite make sense. The popular book by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Soccernomics, had a feature which alluded to the fact that top flight owners wanted a manager with a certain look, in essence the cover of the Football Manager games. There are examples of this up and down the country.

The whole system seems to be stuck playing the same record over and over again, with the same people suggesting the same names for the same sort of jobs. Sometimes the best ideas can come from those who just don’t have a platform to express them. Since the Rooney Rule was implemented in the NFL, two head coaches of African-American coaches have won the Super Bowl. Mike Tomlin, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, a young, bright coach who benefited directly from the new system, and Tony Dungy with the Indianapolis Colts, an experienced coach who’s sacking a few years beforehand was a catalyst for igniting the discussion for change by Dan Rooney back in 2003. There is change in English football, it’s less of a taboo subject now, compared to ten years ago, but there is still a lot to be done to improve matters.

Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink is a young manager who is doing his best to climb the ladder, though his ladder appears to have a number of rungs missing. After a heroic rise with his Burton Albion side, he took the step up to join Queens Park Rangers. This lasted less than a year, and he was fired, replaced by Ian Holloway (yes, really.) He is now back in League One with Northampton Town, battling relegation. Compare this to someone like Alan Pardrew, a manager who comes to a club, gives them a sharp spike in form before systematically ruining them. He has left Newcastle and Crystal Palace in dire straits this decade, yet landed a Premier League gig with West Brom. Compare this to Hasslebaink, who worked wonders with Burton, was below par with QPR and now is battling relegation in League One. How many talented tacticians are being restricted by the colour of their skin? What if there is a Champions League winning calibre of coach who is being overlooked because someone like Neil Warnock “has more experience.”

The Rooney Rule has been met with some mixed reviews, with some people believing that this is a long overdue process in English football, while others argue that this is positive discrimination. I posted a poll on Twitter for 24 hours entitled “Do you think the FA are right to implement the Rooney Rule to English Football?” with the answers being “Yes”, “No” and “What is the Rooney Rule?” The results of this truly split the public opinion. After the 24 hours were up, my poll received 58 votes. Of this number, 40% of respondents voted “yes”, that they believed that the FA are right to implement the Rooney Rule. 26% of people believe that the FA shouldn’t adopt this approach. 34% of respondents voted to say that they did not know what the Rooney Rule was. This poll was posted on Twitter so it is worth acknowledging that the demographic of respondents is not known, and that those with no knowledge of football may have voted in this. It is still a concerningly high number. The Rooney Rule is applied in sport, but covers an important social issue, and as such should be more well documented to society.

There are good reasons for both sides of the coin, but for me, it can only be a good thing. The biggest issue that seems to come up is that many BAME coaches don’t want to earn a job just to tick a box, and rightly so! But that is simply not the issue, the Rooney Role does not guarantee anybody a job, at any level. It does not mean anybody will be hired just because of the colour of their skin, the applicants will need relevant qualifications and skills. It merely gives BAME candidates an opportunity to be interviewed, it provides them with a chance with otherwise may not be made available to them. It provides them with the opportunity to sell themselves, to stand out. Even if they do not get the job, it allows them to network more. A chairman conducting the interview may not employ the BAME applicant, but if impressed may suggest his name to a fellow chairman. It is undoubtedly a leg up, but quite frankly, it is needed. Years of progression in life has seen racial equality even out in many aspects of life (lets conveniently forget Brexit here…) yet football is still living in the past.

I can see why people may think that the Rooney Rule is a point of contention. Some people are traditionalists and believe that the same old names should be considered for the same jobs, there is something oddly comfortable about seeing Sam Allardyce being linked to turmoil teams. Some people just have more faith in humanity, and think/hope/pray that perhaps BAME managers will become more prominent in English football organically. For me though, change needs to happen, now. I don’t believe we should be in a position where we need to have an equal number of every ethnicity filling every role in something not to dissimilar to a primary school teacher making their pupils sit boy-girl-boy-girl in class. What needs to happen is to progress to a point whereby these racial issues just aren’t an issue. It needs to evolve to a point where if a BAME manager is employed, there isn’t a media circus, it is simply the norm.

Change has been needed in English football for a long time now. America is a nation that has racism wired through its core, and yet it is from one of its nation’s premier sports, American football, that the answer has been derived from. The Rooney Rule has been working wonders in the NFL since its introduction fifteen years ago, with eight of the 32 current head coaches being of BAME descent. In other words, that is a quarter of the league. The Rooney Rule is not a quick-fix, not by a long shot, but it is a start. It may split opinion, and it certainly needs to taught more, as the Twitter poll shows that little over a third (34%) of participants didn’t know what the rule was. But the FA are at least making the right noises, they are going in the right direction. The important thing to remember, to those questioning the issue of positive discrimination, is that the rule does not guarantee anyone a job, and consequently it does not take a job from anyone else. It simply gives BAME men and women a chance, in an industry where chances have been few and far between. In an ideal world, the Rooney Rule wouldn’t be needed, it would simply be the case that anyone with the relevant qualifications could get the job based on that alone, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and that is not the case. I for one see the introduction of the Rooney Rule has nothing but positive, and whether you agree with this or not, surely you must hope that this has a positive impact in the coming years.