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Les Ferdinand’s Rooney Rule

Les Ferdinand’s Rooney Rule

QPR sporting director and ex-player Les Ferdinand has been campaigning for years about the lack of black coaches in English football. Is America’s Rooney Rule the answer?


If you’ve ever watched a “Premier League all-time greatest goalscorers” video, then you must have seen a strike from Les Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand…off the bar…and in! It is 3-0 now! And that’s a really difficult header.”

Sky Sports Football

He played for QPR, Newcastle, Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester and Bolton in the Premier League and was capped 17 times for England. 

Les Ferdinand is the 11th highest Premier League goalscorer ever, with 149 goals, just one less than Michael Owen.    

And now he’s back at QPR as Sporting Director.

For several years now, Les Ferdinand has talked about the lack of black coaches in football. 

“All I’ve done for the last ten years…you’ve got different venues and listen to the same speech.

“Do you feel there is now an appetite to make those changes?”

“Well I’m hoping so. Again, like I’ve said I’ve gone to one of these meetings, there’s an appetite in there, but nothing’s come to fruition. So then there’s another meeting…”

Hayters TV

That was seven years ago. 

At the time, a report had been released, which shows that only nineteen out of the five hundred and fifty two coaches in English football were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

So when Les Ferdinand spoke out again – seven years later – what had changed?

The answer is not much. 

Seven years after that report showed how few black coaches there were in the English game, there was another. 

Professor Stefan Szymanski found that from 1051 Coaches and Support Staff working in English football today, only 46 are black. 

That’s despite 44% of Premier League players being black. 

And there are only two black people in positions of executive or ownership roles in English football. 

American Football has a similar problem. There are plenty of black players, but not many black coaches. Domonique Foxworth is a former cornerback in the NFL. 

He has a theory. He says that it’s not necessarily a racism issue, but that as human beings we are steered towards what is familiar to us.

“And that’s the problem…it’s that we’re comfortable attracting or selecting people and working with people that look like us and make us feel comfortable and that’s one of the kind of glass ceilings so to speak…”

ESPN

Les Ferdinand has also talked about that same glass ceiling. 

That football is losing generations of talented black footballers when they retire from playing because of a lack of opportunity in other roles. 

The Football Association says that they have published a code for diversity in football. They say they are “deeply committed” to ensuring that football is reflective of modern society.

But Les Ferdinand won’t be swayed. He says the FA initiatives are “all talk.”

And when you look at the numbers, you can see why Les Ferdinand feels like nothing has improved.

But what can be done?

The NFL has something called the “Rooney Rule.”

No, not Wayne Rooney, but Dan Rooney. A former Pittsburgh Steelers owner who championed a change of rules where there must be an even number of minority candidates interviewed for every Head Coach and General Manager position.

Les Ferdinand thinks English football needs something like the Rooney Rule, to give black coaches a better chance of being selected for leadership roles.

“Until that happens in this country, so unless the Premier League, the FA, footballing whoever it may be ordered the bodies that are involved in it to come together and say right, this is what we’re gonna do…any manager that’s sacked at a football club, now that football club has to advertise that position…that’s the only way…”

Hayters TV

But the Rooney Rule isn’t perfect. Here’s former NFL player Marcus Spears talking in 2020.

“You say to yourself, where if they’re qualified, if they have experience, if guys are vouching for them, if they’ve done a good job and earned the possibility to be a head coach and earn a right because no-one is asking for the possibility for anyone to give them anything…why are there only three of them?”

ESPN

Professor Szymanski – who authored the recent report on black coaches in English football –agrees that the FA needs to bring in a compulsory code for diversity before anything will change. 

At the moment, the FA say that legal reasons prevent them implementing any such measures. 

So it looks like Les Ferdinand will continue to feel frustrated for a while longer yet.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Katie Gunning.