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Insight

A red card to inequality?

09/09/2011
30% of all professional footballers are black.  Despite this, only two of the 92 managers in the English league are black.  Understandably, a “glass ceiling” has been alleged, which is said to impede 30% of all professional footballers are black.  Despite this, only two of the 92 managers in the English league are black.  Understandably, a “glass ceiling” has been alleged, which is said to impede the natural progression of black footballers into management.

The Professional Football Association is tackling this glass ceiling head on by considering introducing the “Rooney Rule” to English League clubs.  Pioneered in American Football’s NFL, the Rooney Rule would require clubs to shortlist black candidates for management posts.  It is credited with significantly increasing the number of black managers in the NFL.  But would it work here?

The Rooney Rule is likely to fall foul of the Equality Act, which makes positive discrimination unlawful.  Short listing candidates because they are black could therefore result in an own goal as clubs are sued for direct discrimination by unsuccessful white candidates.

The PFA could introduce a more European version of the Rooney Rule by requiring clubs to consider taking lawful “positive action” under the Equality Act.  This could allow clubs to introduce targeted recruitment drives, for example, by encouraging applications from black candidates for management positions.  However, selection of the most appropriate candidate should not be made on the basis of race other than in the very limited circumstances allowed by the Equality Act which might permit a club to choose a black manager over an equally qualified white candidate.

Whether positive action would be attractive remains to be seen.  There is always a risk that lawful positive action may stray into unlawful positive discrimination or be misinterpreted as such by an unsuccessful candidate.  Undoubtedly, however, the PFA’s consideration of the Rooney Rule is a welcome sign that it is considering such radical ways of addressing inequality in football.  This can only be a positive step towards a proportionate representation of black football managers.

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