by LAUREN CODLING
LEADING Asian football coaches have welcomed initiatives to “address the inequalities” within the game after the Football Association (FA) was criticised for a lack of BAME (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic) coaches in the England set-up for this month’s World Cup.
The responses come as England manager Gareth Southgate was condemned for the lack of BAME representation within his team in the run-up to the football competition to be held in Russia.
Former Tottenham striker Garth Crooks claimed it would be a “dereliction of his duty” for the England manager not to take a BAME coach to the prestigious tournament, as a way of supporting the ethnic minority members of his team.
“I appointed my coaching staff 18 months ago, so there is no additional coaching position,” Southgate said in response to the criticism.
He added: “Obviously there’s been reference to how we would deal with racism, but we have a department set-up working across all our teams to deal with that sort of player welfare side of things.”
Labour MP David Lammy previously accused Southgate and the FA of disregarding the issue of equality after a lack of ethnic minority coaches heading to Russia with the team.
“It is deeply disappointing that yet again the FA and England manager are in a position where they could lead by example, but instead they have chosen to kick this issue into the long grass,” the MP for Tottenham, London, said.
In November 2017, a report released by The Sports People’s Think Tank’s (SPTT) showed only 22 of the 482 senior coaching roles in English football’s top four divisions are held by ethnic minority coaches.
Following the survey, the FA this year revealed plans for a BAME coach, assistant manager or manager to work with each of its 28 national sides, in all age groups.
When contacted by Eastern Eye on the SPTT report and Southgate’s comments, the newly appointed FA director Rupinder Bains declined to comment.
However, as noted by senior figures in the sport, the FA have made significant moves to make the sport more inclusive.
The England football governing body recently adopted the “Rooney rule” in January, in which at least one ethnic minority candidate will be interviewed for all future coaching positions for all teams within the FA’s umbrella, including the senior men’s and women’s England teams.
The rule was also adopted by the England Cricket Board (ECB) last month as part of a drive to encourage Asian participation.
Initially set up in the US by the National Football League (NFL) in 2003, the Rooney Rule was created as a response to the firings of ethnic minority head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green, at a time when both were highly successful.
Anti-racism educational charity Show Racism the Red Card said they recognised the “concerning” lack of BAME representation at the higher levels.
They noted, however, the moves used to address the imbalance, including the introduction
of the Rooney Rule as an “excellent start”.
Lord Ouseley, the chair of Kick It Out, an organisation aiming to challenge discrimination in football, said its introduction was a “watershed moment”.
“I look to the FA to give leadership on the matter of equality, inclusion and cohesion,” he
said. “I now expect those in positions of power across professional football, along with the
FA, to drive forward the highest standards of activity in order to achieve these objectives
which will benefit everyone who participates in the game.”
Manisha Tailor MBE, a Queen Park Rangers (QPR) academy coach, told Eastern Eye inequality in the sport has been apparent for years, although she acknowledged the work being implemented to deliver change.
Tailor, who is also the company director of Swaggarlicious, an organisation promoting football within diverse communities, noted the changes may take time to become widespread in the sport.
“I definitely feel there are a number of initiatives that have recently been put in place, but to see those to flourish will still take a number of years,” she said.
“People need to get qualified, they need to go through the system and there has to be access to opportunity.”
Tailor gave examples of the FA’s BAME Elite Coach Menteeship, in which ethnic minorities gain access to mentoring and training centres, and the FA Grassroots Coaching Bursary, a funding scheme set up to encourage diversity among UEFA B Licence qualified coaches in England.
Anwar Uddin, the first person of Bangladeshi origin to play professional football in England
and the current manager of Glebe FC in Bromley, told Eastern Eye the “damning” number of BAME, and particularly Asian, representation in managerial roles was not surprising to him.
He shared Tailor’s sentiments, however, adding he was aware that investors were trying their best to improve the situation.
“It is a very slow process, which is disappointing, but I do think now there are so many things in place,” he said. “I think the stakeholders are all looking to see and do what they can to improve opportunities and increase these numbers.”
Uddin added a lot of initiatives, such as the ones recently introduced, were not around when he was growing up, so he remarked the present situation is a “better place” with more opportunities for BAME players.
Raj Athwal, the first British-born Asian to become commercial director of an English professional football club, said he had seen a change in the industry.
He believes a lack of Asian participation was the perception of a footballing career being “invaluable”.
“When you go back 30-odd years, you found that Asian parents were pushing [their children] to look at the academic professions as opposed to football,” he said. “Now it’s a lucrative career, it’s fashionable, and at an academy level there are a lot of Asian kids now.”
On the Rooney Rule, Uddin said although he feels people should be hired for talent, giving an individual the opportunity to showcase who they are is important. He noted, however, the rule would not exist in “an ideal world”, as a person’s racial and religious background should be irrelevant.
“It’s about what you can bring to the table – your experience and know-how,” the retired
footballer asserted. “The cream always rises to the top – if you’re good at what you do, find your platform to do that, and people will take note.”
Tailor agreed, commenting it would help provide access to minorities, although she also believed “it has to be the best person for the job”.
“I feel [the rule] will allow people who are not getting that opportunity to get in front of those board-level people,” she said. “It will only make you better because it will just give you the experience of presenting and speaking to people at that [senior] level.”
Athwal shared similar sentiments, stating: “I do think it’s positive, but all positions need to be based on merit irrespective of your colour, race, religion or gender.”
One of the alleged ongoing issues affecting BAME participation in football, is that racism within the game is still seemingly prevalent.
In 2017, female player Eniola Aluko accused the former England women’s national team manager Mark Sampson of making racial remarks against her, alleging he told her to make sure her Nigerian family members did not “bring Ebola” to a game. Sampson was sacked from his post and the FA apologised for his behaviour and their handling of the case.
Reports last month also emerged claiming former Chelsea coaches Gwyn Williams and Graham Rix subjected black players to explicit racial abuse in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
However, Athwal, who recently released his book A British Raj chronicling his 23-year football career, hoped reports such as this would not deter ethnic minorities from pursuing the sport. “I have never experienced overt racism,” he said. “I want more kids to come in… we have made fantastic progress.”
On her message to British Asians who hope to pursue a career in football, Tailor highlighted the need for “perseverance, resilience…[and] versatility.”
“Volunteer and put yourself out there to be willing to gain a wide range of opportunities, but it does require a lot of perseverance to do that,” she advised.
“Make sure you have the qualifications that you need to put yourself in the position to be able to apply for the job.”
Uddin agreed, remarking the best thing British Asians can do is be proactive and approach as many influential people as they can in the division.
“Football is a very small world, the more people you know, the more opportunities may come up,” he said. “If you want a career in football, and it is not an easy career and you have to work hard, dedicate some time and effort into doing it rather than waiting
to do it in a paid role.”