Representation on and off the pitch

Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game

Panel at Play the Game 2017 put together by FARE. Photo: /Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game


By Mads A. Wickstrøm
Ethnic minorities are clearly under-represented in governance and coaching structures in European football clubs. Women are similarly under-represented.

At a session during Play the game 2017, organised by FARE Network, a number of scholars presented research into ethnic and gender representation in sports governance and senior coaching in European football clubs.

Steven Bradbury, sociologist and lecturer at Loughborough University, presented findings from a 2014 study of ethnic and gender representation in senior governance and coaching positions in European football clubs.

Key findings indicated that 95.8% of senior governance positions and 98.1% of senior coaching positions are held by white men – illustrating an obvious lack of gender and ethnic minority representation at the highest levels of football governance and coaching.

Adding to the numbers provided by Bradbury, Jacco van Sterkenburg, Assistant Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, presented the results of a study investigating gender and ethnic diversity in senior governance and coaching positions in Dutch football clubs.

Across football leagues in the Netherlands, there is nearly no diversity in senior governance and coaching positions. On average, less than two percent of ethnic minorities hold senior governance positions and only 5-10 percent of coaches have a minority background. In comparison, 40 percent of football players in the Netherlands are ethnic minorities.

With respect to gender diversity, Inge Claringbould, Associate Professor at Utrecht University, presented numbers indicating an increase of female board members in Dutch sport federations (NSFs) from 10 percent in 2002 to 19 percent in 2017.

A majority of boards in Dutch football clubs do not have written policy measures to ensure gender diversity. Moreover, when there is a vacant position, the boards do not put special emphasis on the appointment of women. Instead, the boards focus on the “quality and the commitment of the candidate”, according to Claringbould’s research.

What might explain the under-representation of ethnic minorities and women in senior governance and coaching positions in European football clubs? According to Bradbury, five issues may cause under-representation:

  1. Limited access to relevant training and education;
  2. A tendency for governance bodies to recruit based on networks rather than qualifications;
  3. Existence of racialised and gendered stereotypes;
  4. Lack of commitment to change;
  5. Experiences of discrimination leading people to “drop out” of the sports industry.

Moving forward – the Rooney Rule
Recognising the link between under-representation and institutional discrimination is crucial if we are to move forward on the issue and increase diversity in the top of European football, according to Bradbury.

There is a need for further data and research on current levels of representation to measure progress. Moreover, it is crucial to inform key power brokers of the potential benefits of gender and racial diversity in the workplace. Finally, it is necessary to implement positive actions measures e.g. by identifying and exploring models of best practice.

A model of best practice can be seen in the American National Football League (NFL).

For a long time, leadership in the NFL was predominantly white – and still is. However, since the introduction of the so-called “Rooney rule” there has been improvements. The Rooney rule states that at least one person of colour must be interviewed when NFL clubs are looking for new coaches.

According to Jeremi Duru, Professor at the American University in Washington, a number points are important to consider when trying to implement the Rooney rule:

  • There must be similarity in the interviews (i.e. between coloured and whites). Any violation of the rule needs to be sanctioned.
  • There must be an advocacy organisation pushing the sports league to implement the rule.
  • There must be substantial monitoring of the rule. Who was interviewed and how? Who got the job?

“It is not all peaches and cream of the Rooney rule, […] but overall, the rule has been effective and it merits exploration in other sports contexts,” Duru concluded.

A4header 14X3cm 2017
In more than 40 sessions, over 200 speakers will present their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of the most topical questions in world sport during the tenth Play the Game conference, taking place in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 26-30 November 2017.

Read more about Play the Game 2017

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