A plan to rebalance the ethnic makeup of English football leadership was given a warm welcome on Tuesday but with a reminder from leading black, Asian and mixed-ethnicity figures that constructive words must be followed by action.
Nineteen of the Premier League’s 20 teams agreed to become “founding signatories” of the Football Association’s Football Leadership Diversity Code, with Southampton the exception. England’s national setup and a further 22 clubs, including three from the Women’s Championship, also signed up.
The voluntary code, devised over the past three months under the leadership of the FA’s Paul Elliott in collaboration with stakeholders from across the game, looks to set hard targets for recruitment in senior roles in the boardroom and dressing room.
The England and Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings said the code would be of immediate benefit to players such as himself who hoped to move into the administration after retirement but he warned scepticism about the plans among black players would be well-founded.
“Do I think the code will make a difference? Yes, I do,” Mings said. “I think for me as someone who perhaps wants to go into the boardroom when I finish playing, to see that there may be pathways and there may be opportunities … I think it’s an important step.
“There will be some scepticism. It’s probably a lot easier to sign up and not have to ask difficult questions than it is to not sign up and be out on your own. Some people will rightly feel that this won’t move the needle enough in terms of the problems we’ve faced historically but for me and for my ambitions post-football I can see how it will be useful. It’s not the finished article but what it will do is change things for the better.”
The key criteria of the code relates to recruitment. The code requires that 15% of new hires in senior leadership roles will be black, Asian or of mixed heritage, while 30% of hires will be female. In coaching, at men’s professional clubs, 25% of hires should be black, Asian or of mixed heritage, with that figure dropping to 10% in “senior coaching hires”.
With only five black managers across 92 league clubs there is acknowledgement even among those who worked on the code that some of these targets will have to rise if the football industry is better to reflect society and players on the pitch. “It will definitely have to change,” said Mings of the 10% senior coaching target. “Like anything when you set something up, there has to be constant reviews. Some clubs will find it easier simply because of where they are, and what demographic of people they have working for them at the moment. Some people will be starting from a lot better positions than others.”
Sanjay Bhandari, the CEO of the anti-discrimination body Kick It Out, who was consulted on the code, said it “shows what can happen when football works as a team” but stressed their was more work to be done.
“We will be seeking to provide the reporting transparency that tracks how football is progressing against these targets in the coming years,” he said. “We know that talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. We need to correct that imbalance.”
Southampton said they agreed with the principles but wanted to wait for the publication of a revised version of the Premier League’s Equality Standard before “revising our recruitment targets and already established processes”.
The league said it supported the code and was “embedding the principles within its ongoing work, including the Premier League Equality Standard programme for clubs”.