Lee Wellings: Too black to coach?

How many of the coaches at the Africa Cup of Nations are black? Three. How many coaches in the world’s most watched, celebrated, multicultural league, the Premier League, are black? That’s right. None. Do these figures sounds acceptable to you?

That was the starting point for a special Al Jazeera programme. Sport Matters – too black to coach? The idea was not to point a finger of blame, but to explore a subject that football is only just starting to wake up to. Is ‘unconscious racism’ at play in the lack of opportunities for black managers.

It’s a subject the required sensitive handling. I was conscious ‘black coaches’ is the last thing our high profile guests should need to consider themselves as.

But Clarence Seedorf, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Sol Campbell graciously accepted the point – that until more coaching jobs in world football are taken by men who happen to be black they are somehow seen as representative. Bear in mind that all three had stellar playing careers. Why should they have to deal with potential barriers? And why should anyone who is black or from an ethnic minority and NOT in possession of a star name.

“in football it’s 99 per cent white men in charge,” Seedorf tells me at our Shard HQ in London. “Why? Well discrimination, fear and prejudice is in society. People need to remember that football is just part of society not society itself.”

Seedorf has a new role as a cultural and diversity officer for UEFA but he’s not a man that should ever be pigeon-holed. The only man to have won the Champions League with three different clubs, the global experience of the Suriname-born Dutchman comes from playing in Holland, Italy, Spain and Brazil.

His first managerial role was brief, curiously brief, just four months at his beloved AC Milan, a club that clearly wasn’t settled when he took over last year, and seemingly remains in the doldrums. But his is an untypical case – his star status, impeccable reputation and intelligence will make him an attractive proposition for top jobs in the future. What about those who don’t have his name and playing CV?

Hasselbaink, also Dutch of Surinamese descent, is another man who wants to be respected for his coaching, not falling back on what he achieved as a player. He’s made an excellent start at Burton Albion, hunting promotion at the top of the fourth tier of English football.

But when Hasselbaink was hired he became just the third black manager out of the English 92 clubs. No wonder his appointment stood out. I join him in the dug out and he acknowledges there is going to be more attention on his race than there ideally should be.

“It doesn’t motivate me. I see that I want to be a manager and that’s that. I know that I’m a black man. I know that I’m a proud black man. But I didn’t go through my coaching qualification thinking I might not get a job because I am black. And I am the right person to take this club forward.” Spend time with Hasselbaink and you will be in no doubt he is the right man.

Former England captain Sol Campbell is still taking his coaching badges but is wary of how he might be seen and whether he’ll be given the right opportunity and backing: “It’s not been right for some time. It’s changing but how quickly is it changing – that’s the thing. Five per cent of black managers at most, that’s unacceptable.”

Campbell was disappointed not to been invited into the England set-up, at any level, having captained the country and taken a natural leadership role.

But Sport Matters found the English FA to be one of the most progressive in world football. Actively promoting and delivering integration on coaching courses, and trying to bring through new generations of coaches from ethnic backgrounds.

Another of our panellists, Heather Rabbatts, is herself a trailblazer. The FA Director should be known primarily for her achievements in no-nonsense, progressive administration. Instead, being the first woman on the board in 150 years of the FA, and from an ethnic background, have helped define her rise.

Both Heather and fellow guest Piara Powar are trying to change things in domestic and world football. Piara is chief executive of the FARE network, tackling racism in European football. And both sit on the FIFA anti-racism taskforce, which granted us unprecedented access into FIFA’s inner sanctum.

The chairman is FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb, who knows that the lack of black coaching is an issue than needs to be higher up FIFA and world football’s agenda.

“FIFA has acknowledged there is a problem. What’s important is that the conversation has now started,” said Webb, who is taking a tough stance on racism in football, wanting sanctions for offenders to include points deductions or relegations. “There’s nothing wrong with having a coach from Africa, just like having a player from Africa, or someone in your board from a different ethnicity. Let’s bring the them and us together.

But Sport Matters headed to Africa, to Ghana, and found the uncomfortable truth about football and race on the continent.

Ghana appointed experienced European coach Avram Grant shortly before the tournament started this month. NONE of the five candidates for the job were white.

The most powerful, but not untypical view, of the appointment came from Osei Kofi, a star player when Ghana became Champions of Africa in the mid 1960s.

“They always prefer the white man because if somebody does something wrong and he wants to punish them the white man will go and report it to the state, the head of state, and somebody will be fired. They respect the white coaches because they feel the white coaches can take a decision.”

It’s a stark assessment of the situation in Ghana, but there is clearly an issue on the African continent, not just in football. Some nations are still making decisions affected by their colonial past. And will football associations have the courage to back black talent, as was the case with Nigeria and Stephen Keshi, that lone black manager at the World Cup.

It was an honour to pick the considerable brains of men like Hasselbaink, Campbell and Seedorf for Sport Matters but we weren’t looking for definitive answers and solutions. It’s too early in the process. Football, globally, needs to properly acknowledge address the damning statistics. As Webb pointed out, the conversation has started. But it needs to get louder. And fast.

Sport Matters; Too Black to Coach. Al Jazeera from 1930gmt Friday Jan 30

via the website. www.aljazeera.com/english

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at ten.a1721784608reeza1721784608jla@s1721784608gnill1721784608ew.ee1721784608l1721784608. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport