Hughton firing highlights diversity issues in English soccer


Norwich’s decision to fire Chris Hughton had nothing to do with race and everything to do with the millions in revenue that could be lost if the club is relegated from the Premier League. Still, the result is the same: Every manager leading his team out next weekend will be white.

Not just in the Premier League, but across England’s top five divisions.

English soccer prides itself on the progress made in largely eradicating racism from grounds, and the fact that players from every corner of the world are playing in the country. But it is an alarming anomaly that while more than a quarter of Premier League players are black, the departure of Hughton means that none of their managers are.

For Herman Ouseley, the long-standing chairman of English soccer’s anti-racism body, Kick It Out, it reinforces just how much the game remains “institutionally racist.”

“There isn’t the drive and collective feeling of responsibility to become diverse,” Ouseley said on Monday from the British parliament where he sits in the House of Lords.

“That’s because of the way they do business, the way they make decisions . . . it’s harder to be black and successful in a process where there is no proper process and accountability.”

Norwich’s commitment to tackling racism is indisputable. It backed police action against online abuse Hughton faced earlier this season.

Now the club’s legitimate ambitions of staying in the top flight have been jeopardized by four losses in its last six matches. With the team five points above the relegation zone with five matches remaining, Delia Smith, the co-owner who made her name and fortune from cook books and television shows, will fear missing out on at least $60 million in television revenue next season if Norwich falls to the second tier.

The 55-year-old Hughton’s dismissal on Sunday followed a depressingly familiar pattern: no job advert was posted; no line of candidates appeared to be interviewed. Instead youth team coach Neil Adams was hastily promoted to his first senior managerial job.

Critics argue that not throwing open jobs to a wider pool of talent, and simply going with soccer’s known — and overwhelmingly white — managers makes it much harder for aspiring black coaches to get top jobs.

English soccer has been exploring whether to emulate the NFL and its Rooney Rule, which forces clubs to at least interview ethnic minorities for top jobs.

“It would be a huge step forward in England in terms of giving coaches and managers from ethnic minority backgrounds an opportunity to at least put their case forward,” said former Blackburn and West Bromwich Albion striker Jason Roberts, who retired from playing last month and has campaigned on race issues.

The Rooney Rule was named after campaigning Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. A survey this season of 200 professional players in England found 62 percent backed the mandatory shortlisting of black and ethnic minority candidates for all non-playing jobs.

But not all are convinced the NFL rule would work in English soccer. Even Ouseley acknowledged that “you can’t transplant the same thing over here.”