The Rooney Rule Goes to England

by Nigel Assam

Concerned with the lack of black managers in soccer, especially in the upper echelons of the game, England’s Professional Footballers Association is considering adopting a version of the Rooney rule, which would ensure that clubs shortlist black managers for interviews. Of the 92 clubs that comprise the different levels of the English game, Chris Hughton at Birmingham F.C. and Chris Powell at Charlton F.C. are the only black managers. A few years ago, former Manchester United player Paul Ince tried his hand at management, his highest-profile job being at Blackburn Rovers, which made him the first black manager in the Premier League. (Hughton is actually mixed, being the first mixed-race player to represent the Republic of Ireland).

NFL fans will remember the Rooney rule and why it was instituted, and its result, with franchises hiring black coaches and front-office personnel. Cyrus Mehri, the lawyer behind this rule, was invited to speak to the PFA. Several black high-profile English former and current players are in support of this move, such as Des Walker, Andy Cole, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand.

Soccer in England, as well as in France and other parts of Europe, still battles with the ugly stain of racism, as players are sometimes heckled with monkey noises, as was the case on Friday night in Sofia, Bulgaria, when the England national team played in a Euro 2012 qualifying match. Clubs in England participate in the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign.

While it is a good move to ensure that clubs are interviewing as broad a field of candidates as possible, many times club chairmen have already picked out a successor to the manager who is to be sacked; in the Premier League, chairmen and others behind the scenes prefer these processes to done in privacy; and if the club is facing relegation, which means a loss of money, club chairmen want to replace managers as quickly as possible to hopefully turn the club around and bring stability to the situation.

Chris Hughton was not long without a job after being sacked from Newcastle United. But the idea of having to interview a candidate because of the color of his skin is surely a decision based upon race, instead of the candidate’s qualifications. If he succeeds in Birmingham’s attempt at promotion back into the Premier League, he will be celebrated, but if he fails, he may or may not be sacked. English club owners have shown in recent years the impatience with managers by quickly getting rid of those who have not met expectations, regardless of the color of their skin.

What next, a quota for colored players?

Right Field

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