Will The FA score with its adoption of the Rooney Rule?

Published 17 January 2018 By: Nick Tsatsas

The FA Logo


The Football Association (The FA) had something of an annus horribilis in 2017, attracting widespread criticism for the way in which it handled England Women’s Eniola Aluko’s complaints of racism1, its sacking of former England Women’s head coach Mark Sampson2, and the lamentable appearance of its senior executives before Parliament’s Digital Culture Media Sport Select Committee in October of last year3.

Each of these scandals exposed The FA’s governance, grievance and investigatory processes as inadequate, so it comes as no surprise that The FA has begun the process of trying to rebuild its damaged reputation by this week announcing a number of initiatives designed to “better demonstrate [its] leadership4 in relation to the inclusion and anti-discrimination “agenda”.


New initiatives: The Rooney Rule

Amongst other initiatives, The FA acknowledged that it was “lacking in a grievance and whistleblowing policy for [its]national teams5 and accordingly, it has now produced such policies in partnership with UK Sport. The policies have not yet been published – either by The FA or UK Sport – so it is not possible to comment on their content, but one hopes that, amongst other things, they will achieve the aim of enabling elite athletes to make a complaint without jeopardising their place in a team – an issue that affected a number of high profile British sportswomen in recent years, not just in football, but across other sports too6. It was interesting to read that Eni Aluko herself had input into the new policies, albeit not actually as a result of The FA’s own initiative: according to FA Chief Executive Martin GlennUK Sport specifically asked us to talk to Eni and she made some very useful suggestions which have been largely incorporated7.

However, the announcement that has attracted the most publicity is The FA’s commitment to “adopt the principles of a voluntary Rooney Rule [within] the England team set up8. The Rooney Rule is named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, and was introduced by America’s National Football League (NFL) in 2003 to ensure that ethnic minority candidates are considered for head coaching jobs.9 Rooney, then head of the NFL’s diversity group, introduced the rule that teams must interview ethnic minority candidates for senior coaching jobs, and it has proved to be an effective initiative: the 2017 NFL season began with seven African-American head coaches and one Latino – a record representation for ethnic minorities at the highest level of the game10.

The FA has now indicated that it will apply the principles of the Rule to all frontline coaching roles, including the England manager’s job currently held by Gareth Southgate. Consequently, at least one black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) candidate will be interviewed for a vacancy when it arises, so long as the candidate’s application meets the relevant technical criteria.



Inevitably, the success or otherwise of the initiative will be determined by how many BAME coaches are appointed to high profile England roles. In this regard, the initiative is unlikely to be as effective as it proved in the NFL, at least in the short to medium term. A recent report11 revealed that, of the 482 leading coaching roles across clubs in England’s top four divisions, just 22 belong to coaches with BAME backgrounds, with only four BAME managers in the entire English Football League (EFL), and just one (Chris Hughton) in the English Premier League; as such, there is an extremely shallow pool of coaches with high level coaching/managerial experience in this country at present, so very few British candidates will even qualify for consideration. Perhaps this will mean that, for the foreseeable future, The FA will have to consider candidates from overseas (which may itself lead to familiar accusations of a failure to support British coaches and managers!) if it is to comply with its self-imposed Rooney Rule obligations, but even then, that is unlikely to be an answer: a list of the 50 best managers in the world published by FourFourTwo magazine contained just two BAME managers12.

To be fair to The FA, it recognises this challenge, and a number of the other initiatives announced yesterday are aimed at increasing the representation of those with BAME backgrounds in the professional coaching ranks. The EFL (but not the Premier League which, as ever, marches to its own tune) is doing its part too, by extending last season’s trial adoption of the Rooney Rule to all of its 72 members from this season13. Indeed, the EFL’s experience last season is likely to be instructive: although the adoption of the Rule by 10 clubs did not result in any increase in the number of first-team BAME coaches and managers, more positive results were seen at academy level where 11 of the 76 jobs in relation to which the EFL has data were awarded to BAME candidates14. It seems, then, as if the adoption of the Rooney Rule in English football will take some time to produce notable results, but that is no reason not to embrace the initiative; there is no doubt that ethnic minorities are under-represented in the coaching and managerial ranks in English football, and any committed attempt to address this under-representation is to be welcomed.

One wonders, however, whether all these inclusivity initiatives will ever truly succeed, as long as the administrators who are charged with implementing them lack any diversity themselves. Why did the FA limit the adoption of the Rooney Rule to the coaching ranks, and not take the opportunity to extend a similar initiative to any administrative roles under the governing body’s auspices? There are long-standing criticisms about diversity within The FA itself15, and until The FA actually commits to reforming itself, and not just the game that it oversees, its motives and efficiency will continue to be questioned. For an organisation that has always given the impression of being so pre-occupied with its public profile, this very obvious failure to address the issue of internal reform remains a glaring omission.

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Nick Tsatsas

Nick Tsatsas

Nick is a consultant solicitor and employment law specialist at Keystone Law. He acts for domestic and international employers, senior executives and high-profile personalities, and has particular expertise advising in relation to employment issues in the sports and media sectors. He has consistently been recognised as a leading lawyer in the employment field by Chambers Guide to the UK Legal Profession and The Legal 500.

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