Adopting the Rooney Rule in English football

By Leon MannBBC Sports News

The United States lawyer behind the Rooney Rule in American football's National Football League (NFL) says he is confident English football's authorities will adopt the pioneering recruitment process.

The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview one black or ethnic minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities that become available, as part of a transparent and open recruitment process.

Cyrus Mehri, based in Washington, has been in London this week meeting with the game's top bosses to present the rule as a way of addressing the lack of black and ethnic minority coaches and managers in professional football.

Birmingham City's Chris Hughton and Chartlon Athletic's Chris Powell are the only black managers across all 92 professional clubs, despite more than 25% of players in the league being black.

"I think that this is a key moment," Mehri told BBC Sport. "I have confidence in the people I met with. They were very impressive, they asked good questions and came with an open mind.

"I'm very confident that when they study this issue they're going to reach the same conclusion that the bosses in the NFL reached, which was it may not be perfect but there is no better solution and we have to address this issue."

Mehri explains that the Rooney Rule - named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league's diversity committee - was initially met with scepticism in the United States but the initiative has been a resounding success.

"What ended up happening was almost overnight we went from two black head coaches to seven and there are currently eight minority head coaches. We went from one black general manager to five. So that means 13 out of 32 clubs in the NFL are led by a minority head coach or manager.

"Most importantly these people who have been selected have delivered for their teams. Out of the last five years, of the 10 clubs that made it to the Super Bowl, seven of those were led by a black general manager or head coach.

"Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, will tell you in speech after speech that the Rooney Rule has made America's game a better game.

"So now the question is: can a rule like this be tailored and adopted to fit the English game?"

Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Davis is leading much of the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) work to encourage players into coaching and management. He also believes the Rooney Rule would have benefits far beyond the black community.

"The game over here would improve without doubt," Davis told BBC Sport. "We'd have better teams. The national team would be better. When it happens, people will see it with their own eyes.

"Black and white players are looking to get into the game and are not getting opportunities because the jobs are going to the same faces.

"We want to try and break that down, so everyone coming out of the game feels that they've got a chance."

Mehri believes that without the Rooney Rule, the issue of under-representation in the NFL would have continued. He is urging the English football authorities to become the world leaders in this area within the sport.

"It shows leadership worldwide," he enthuses. "I also believe that it will make the Premier League more competitive."

Both Davis and Mehri reject the suggestion that the Rooney Rule promotes positive discrimination.

"I don't believe this is positive discrimination," says Davis. "It's about opening up barriers and allowing everybody the opportunity to pitch for a job."

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