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David James believes ‘Rooney Rule’ enforces positive discrimination, cites need for higher quality in black managers

Apr 18, 2013, 8:35 PM EST

PST James

On the heels of comments by Gordon Taylor, union chief of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), concerning the application of the ‘Rooney Rule’ to English football, former England goalkeeper David James claims the shortage of black managers in the Premier League is not a race issue.

The 42-year-old netminder, currently playing with Icelandic club ÍBV, fears the positive discrimination that could result from implementation of a ‘Rooney Rule.’ Being forced to consider black managers for any vacancy, James claims, misses the point. “Having been on two FA coaching courses, A Licence and B Licence, there weren’t many ethnic coaches, black or other, on the courses.

“And, if you look at the ones who have been sacked – the highlighted examples of there being a glass ceiling – well they’ve been bloody bad managers, so why should you give them a job?”

Presently there are only five black managers in the 92 club English professional game: Norwich’s Chris Hughton, Charlton’s Chris Powell, Blackpool’s Paul Ince, Barnet’s Edgar Davids and Notts County’s Chris Kiwomya. The most successful of these managers is Hughton, who is managing his second club in the Premier League, Norwich City, after managing Newcastle from 2008-10.

Not one to fear speaking his mind, James said about Hughton: “He’s decent at what he does and that’s the problem – the standard of black managers in England isn’t good enough to demand these positions.” James’ comments come at odds with Taylor’s firm belief that the PFA’s equivalent of the ‘Rooney Rule’ will address the lack of black representation.

James’ comments focus on the quality (or lack thereof) of black managers in England. On one hand, James’ fear of positive discrimination certainly has merit. He essentially argues that it’s not about the color of someone’s skin, rather about whether or not they are good enough to do the job. Under James’ view the potential opportunity gained by implementing a ‘Rooney Rule’ is not justified since there is a lack of quality black managers to choose in England.

The fact that there are only five black managers in the English game can also be used to support James’ contentions. Many might point out that this number, when compared with the number of qualified black coaches in the NFL, represents a titanic difference.

On the other hand, James’ view could be seen as shortsighted. Merely because there are only five black managers in England could simply be indicative of a culture that, expressly or impliedly, has long discouraged black players from pursuing a career in managing English football. Perhaps such a culture has forced those would-be managers in England to pursue their dream elsewhere (e.g. the U.S.) or simply to pursue another career altogether. If, however, those opportunities were to expand via the ‘Rooney Rule’ then it’s possible more black players who aspire to manage in England may be inclined to pursue such a path.

This school of thought would also argue that merely because there are only five black managers in England does not indicate that this represents the entire pool of potential hirees. Retiring black players and managers at posts outside of England could foreseeably be candidates as well.

Balancing the implications of positive discrimination and traditional discrimination is never easy but one that English football nevertheless appears intent on undertaking.

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