Law should force UK football clubs to hire more black coaches, says ex-player

Mark Townsend

Football clubs should be forced by new legislation to hire more black managers if the structural racism gripping the national game is to be broken, according to one of the sport’s most prominent race equality campaigners.

Jason Lee, equalities executive at the Professional Footballers’ Association, said government intervention felt like the only way to tackle “systemic racism” in the sport.

Currently around 30% of professional players are black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). Yet this figure is not reflected in the five out of 91 managerial positions in the football league held by BAME people, or in boardrooms.

“If you don’t have people in these positions, how are you going to get change?” said Lee, a former Nottingham Forest forward. “At the moment people are not being held accountable for not giving other people opportunities to impress.”

The proportion of black managers fell further last week when former England defender Sol Campbell left his job as manager of Southend United by mutual consent. Campbell, a contemporary of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – who both landed plum management roles soon after retiring – struggled to even get interviews with top clubs, and ending up trying his luck in the lower leagues.

At the moment everyone is talking a great game but we need to see long-lasting outcomes

Jason Lee

“Sol captained his club, captained his country and the point he tried to make was that he couldn’t get an opportunity anywhere. Compare that with other players in the same England team,” said Lee. “I’ve talked to lots of my peers over the years and they’ve shared their frustration at not even being able to get an interview.”

Since the Premier League restarted last month, footballers have been taking a knee before games to express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement to millions of global viewers. Yet some are concerned that the momentum might expire with scant tangible progress.

“At the moment everyone is talking a great game, but we need to see long-lasting outcomes,” said Lee, who experienced racism in his career, including comedian David Baddiel blacking up to impersonate him in the 1990s.

One reason why BAME players never reach senior management positions in the game can be explained, he said, by the continuation of racial stereotypes that perpetuate the myth that black people are less intelligent.

Such bias was highlighted last week by new research that revealed a stark difference in the ways football commentators talk about players. Broadcast commentators were far more likely to praise a white player for intelligence and leadership qualities, and significantly more likely to criticise a black player for what they perceived as a lack of those attributes.

BT Sport reacted to the study by introducing mandatory “unconscious bias” training for all staff. Sky Sports said its employees had had such training for two seasons but that extra sessions had been held regarding the language used when discussing issues around Black Lives Matter.

The findings encouraged senior ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley to contact the PFA suggesting his fellow commentators be given proper training. His intervention was particularly notable as Tyldesley was sitting beside Ron Atkinson in 2004 when the former football pundit uttered the racist remark about Chelsea’s Marcel Desailly that led to his resignation.

Legislation to make clubs hire more BAME managers would be controversial, Lee said, but was necessary because current initiatives had failed. “These guys have the qualifications and skill set but are being overlooked even when their CV is better. They’re not even getting a callback. The only thing they can put their finger on is that it’s the colour of their skin.”

Although Baddiel has apologised for his use of blackface, he has never directly contacted Lee. The former footballer believes further contrition from the comedian might help demonstrate how attitudes are changing.

“It would be good for people – for my children – to see that people should be held accountable. It’s not too late,” said Lee.

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