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Johnny Phillips: A chance to rule in the best candidates

By Johnny Phillips | Wolves | Published:

But surely the job should go to the best candidate..?

If anyone is still trotting out a comment like this when discussing the Rooney Rule, it shows there is still much work to be done when understanding this subject.

The Rooney Rule has been around for long enough now for there to be no ambiguity about its purpose.

It came into effect in American Football in 2003, to ensure that at least one Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) candidate was interviewed for any top coaching position in the NFL. By 2009 the Rooney Rule applied for all senior football positions within the NFL.

It was around that time it was first debated in this country and it has been on the agenda in professional football here ever since.

The Football Association has finally taken steps to introduce it for all FA coaching roles. As long as that person has applied and meets the recruitment criteria, at least one BAME candidate will now be interviewed.

It changes the composition of the candidate pool, not the criteria used in the hiring process; a concept designed to improve equality and inclusiveness.

This is a straight forward concept to grasp and there are no reasonable grounds for questioning its implementation. A BAME candidate will be an addition to – not a replacement of – another candidate. The FA gets many things wrong but this is a step forward. A tacit admission that there has been under-representation of ethnic minorities within its own set-up.

Of 482 coaching positions in the top four divisions only 22 are held by BAME coaches, according to a Sports People’s report back in November. That’s just 4.5 percent when the UK is made up of 13 per cent from a minority background. Only five out of the 92 managers in the top four divisions are from a BAME background. Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo is one of them.

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But this is not simply a football issue. In fact, the figures in the UK business industry are even more concerning. Academic research conducted for The Colour of Power project last year showed that out of the top 1,000 political, financial, judicial, security and cultural figures in the UK only 36 (3.6 per cent) were from ethnic minorities.

Cyrus Mehri, who helped create the Rooney Rule, has hailed its success

But the Rooney Rule isn’t even about directly addressing this imbalance. It is not about guaranteeing BAME candidates any jobs. It merely seeks to give BAME candidates the opportunity to be interviewed. To put themselves in the shop window because that is where the failing has been. BAME candidates have not had the opportunity to break through a glass ceiling in recruitment.

As the FA acknowledge, at boardroom level in English football we have a situation where BAME candidates are not getting the number of interviews that should be expected. Which means there is a smaller interview pool that is less competitive than it should be. In other words, the person appointed to a top position is not beating the best, just a selection of the best.

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And that means that you and I as football fans are being denied the opportunity to have the best candidate in charge of the football team we support. So the person bleating that, “Surely the job should go to the best candidate,” is entirely missing the point.

The Rooney Rule is not the answer to the institutional problems in this country and it shouldn’t have to exist but it is a step forward. The numbers are there to back up those that say there is - consciously or subconsciously – a degree of institutional racism in English football that has led to the current system. With the arrival of so many foreign owners the demographics at the top are changing, but many football boardrooms have traditionally been a cosy, establishment, middle-aged white man environment. This has led to many BAME candidates giving up before the process has begun.

The Rooney Rule will not change anything immediately, and one can only despair at the thought of somebody saying, “Well, he only go the job because of the Rooney Rule,” next time a BAME candidate is successful.

But after years of skewed selection processes where there has been an imbalance in the types of candidates applying for jobs, let alone being appointed, gradually over time the hope is that there will be a more representative system.

Perhaps it would be best to look at the effect of the Rooney Rule in the NFL, where it has been in place for a number of years. Its implementation has been referred to as ‘soft’ affirmative action.

Cyrus Mehri, one of the lawyers who created the Rooney Rule, said recently, “By any objective measure it’s been a tremendous success. Seven out of the last 10 Super Bowl teams have either had an African American general manager or an African American head coach. There are times when it comes across as awkward and there are some teams that follow it more robustly than others.

“But the bottom line is that every time somebody gets an interview and does not get selected, they are in a better position next time. And because the ones that have served as head coaches have been so successful, it helps open the door for others. It breaks down that buddy system and casts the net further. That means there are white coaches who have benefited from the Rooney Rule too, because the net is being cast further to find the best candidate.”

Standards are being raised and inclusivity is being improved.

The job should go to the best candidate? That is exactly what the Rooney Rule is about.

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country.

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