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Home   /   The FA Football Leadership Diversity Code is only a start
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The FA’s Football Leadership Diversity Code October-launch was somewhat overshadowed by Greg Clarke’s inglorious departure last month, although its need was glaringly highlighted.

The code aims to increase the racial diversity of recruitment into executive and coaching positions by introducing targets of 15% and 25% respectively for Black, Asian or mixed heritage candidates, although the target falls to just 10% for “senior coaching hires”.

Women’s opportunities are to be boosted by a 30% target for new executive hires, as well as half of coaching appointments in women’s football.

It has already been criticised by Disability Rights UK for its lack of provision for disabled people, which has forced the FA to declare the code “a starting point” which will “expand more broadly over time” – something which really should be a given.

The code was announced by FA inclusion advisory board head Paul Elliott following a five-month consultation period including input from various football-based figures, and is a positive step but it is only a start.

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Aston Villa women’s director of football Eni Aluko welcomed an “intentional step towards change” but she and others, such as Tyrone Mings and Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari, see the need to build on it despite being positive currently.

The code’s voluntary status is an obvious issue, something that Queens Park Rangers director of football Les Ferdinand says he “wishes” was not so.

Southampton have not signed up, citing a need to see how it fits with the Premier League’s Advanced Equality Standard, a response that seems hollow since every other Premier League club has managed to.

Over 40 clubs have agreed to it, including Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship sides, but as there are 92 Football League clubs in the men’s game alone, there are clearly plenty who have decided not to.

As with regulation in any business it has to be enforceable otherwise it can be bypassed and virtually meaningless, and starting with over half the relevant clubs not signed up does not inspire confidence.

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As Ferdinand says: “I want to see something in place that means if you do not follow this code, there’s going to be some repercussions for your organisation. That’s the only way it’s going to work. That’s the only way we’re going to force change.”

And that, unfortunately, is key, the change has to be forced. After all if it was going to happen of its own accord then a code would not be necessary in the first place.

The code not only needs to be mandatory to mean something, it needs to be properly enforced otherwise it will make it too easy to revert to business as usual.

Even in the NFL where the Rooney Rule, which stipulates that minority candidates must be interviewed for senior coaching and front-office positions, is enforceable, the then Oakland Raiders agreed to hire Jon Gruden in 2018, before Jack Del Rio had been fired or any interviews had been conducted, and escaped punishment – this is seen as partly responsible for a fall in minority hires since.

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‘Affirmative action’ has its detractors, across all ethnicities, but if the FA are going to go down this road then they have to do it meaningfully.

It may be an imperfect system, but it is less imperfect than what we currently have and must be more than “just another gesture” as Ferdinand fears.

One quick way to back up the words in the code would be to display some diversity in the replacement of Clarke as FA chair, something which Mings considers “a huge step” and which Elliott has been widely tipped for.

It may seem a simplistic response to Clarke’s crass comments but differing perspectives are important, and the abundance of white, male perspectives at the top of the game have resulted in a frankly glacial pace of progress on race and gender issues in football.

Even with the best will in the world, it is hard to fix what you cannot see, not to mention the minimal likelihood of a fix without that will.  

If not Elliott then somebody with his experience of working against discrimination would be positive, as the apparently vital business experience that is usually sought has proven not to translate into social issues.  

The Football Leadership Diversity Code should not be trashed for not immediately solving the problem at hand, but change will not come without more force behind it.

After all, the code itself (after its five-month consultation) was hardly organic – its launch came almost exactly five months after the death of George Floyd.

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April 2024