Could the Rooney Rule change the face of European football

A partner session organised by Fare at the Play the Game 2017 conference presented research into ethnic and gender representation in governance and senior coaching in European football and discussed the role of the Rooney Rule football's lack of diversity.

Steven Bradbury, sociologist and lecturer at Loughborough University, presented the findings of a 2014 study commissioned by Fare. Results showed that 95.8% of senior governance positions and 98.1% of senior coaching positions are held by white men.

Jacco van Sterkenburg, Assistant Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, presented the results of a similar study looking at Dutch football, which concluded that in Dutch leagues less than two percent of ethnic minorities hold senior governance positions and only 5-10% of coaches are of an ethnic minority background, while 40% of players in these leagues are ethnic minorities.

With respect to gender diversity, Inge Claringbould, Associate Professor at Utrecht University, highlighted an increase of female board members in Dutch sport federations (NSFs) from 10% in 2002 to 19% in 2017.

The majority of boards in Dutch clubs do not have written policy measures to ensure gender diversity. Moreover, when there is a vacant position, the boards do not put special emphasis on the appointment of women.

Among the reasons behind the lack of diversity in governance and coaching in European football, Bradbury pointed out: limited access to relevant training and education; a tendency for governance bodies to recruit based on closed networks rather than qualifications; a existence of racialised and gendered stereotypes; a lack of commitment to change; and, experiences of discrimination leading people to "drop out" of the sports industry.

"Recognising the link between under-representation and institutional discrimination is crucial if we are to move forward on the issue and increase diversity in the top of European football" Bradbury explained.

During the discussion, panellists highlighted a need for further data and research on current levels of representation to measure progress, to inform key power brokers of the potential benefits of gender and racial diversity in the workplace and to implement positive actions.

A model of best practice can be seen in the American National Football League (NFL).

For a long time, leadership in the NFL was predominantly white – and still is. However, since the introduction of the so-called "Rooney Rule" there has been improvements. The "Rooney Rule" states that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed when NFL clubs are looking for new coaches.

According to Jeremi Duru, Professor at the American University in Washington, a number points are important to consider when trying to implement the Rooney rule:

  • There must be similarity in the interviews (i.e. between coloured and whites). Any violation of the rule needs to be sanctioned.
  • There must be an advocacy organisation pushing the sports league to implement the rule.
  • There must be substantial monitoring of the rule. Who was interviewed and how? Who got the job?

β€œIt is not all peaches and cream of the Rooney rule, … but overall, the rule has been effective and it merits exploration in other sports contexts,” Duru concluded.

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