Eniola Aluko tells MPs Rooney Rule should be used across British sport

Eniola Aluko - GETTY IMAGES
Eniola Aluko – GETTY IMAGES

Eniola Aluko, the former England forward, signalled support to MPs for the Rooney Rule across the British sporting sector after a Telegraph investigation laid bare the scarcity of black representation in boardrooms.

Both Aluko and Paul Cleal, an advisor on improving diversity at executive level, also said clear targets for governing bodies are needed to tackle the current dearth in positions of real power. Just three per cent of board members of taxpayer-funded national governing bodies (NGBs) are black, according to data disclosed by Telegraph Sport last month.

During subsequent questioning by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Aluko, who is now Aston Villa Women’s sporting director, has suggested a target of 30 per cent should be set to increase black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) inclusion.  Such a goal would bring sport broadly in line with ambitions recently set out for football by Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination campaign group.

Signalling her support for the Rooney Rule, which was pioneered in American football to ensure teams interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs, Aluko added that «mandatory BAME interviewees for jobs» would help ensure equal opportunity. «If it’s not in front of you you’re not going to choose it,» she said.

In 2017, Aluko, who has 102 England caps, received a public apology from the FA after giving evidence to the same committee of MPs surrounding race remarks made by ex-international coach Mark Sampson.

On Tuesday, she said that committee hearing had been a positive step, but explained «here has to be something intentional about change» when she was asked about lingering issues with representation.

«I think when you rely on self regulation and people doing it themselves, they tend to just fall back into a comfort zone and what they’ve always done,» the 33-year-old said. «And I think we do need a target.»

A 30 per cent target suggested by campaigners is «a good one in terms of it being something that you can always strive and achieve towards».

Mandatory rules elsewhere in sport, such as homegrown player quotas, have shown that reform «can instinctively change investment behaviour» and mandatory change is needed «whether owners or directors like it or not».

«I think there has certainly been a lot of progress from when I started playing football 20-plus years ago. There was absolutely no-one I could look to in the game that looked like me, either as a woman or a black woman,» she added «Fast-forward 20 years we are still seeing a glass ceiling to a certain extent.»

The former Birmingham City, Chelsea and Juventus player, retired from playing in January, said she was supportive of current Premier League plans to take control of the top two tiers of the women’s game.

During a wide range of questioning, she also expressed some support for transgender rights in football. «It would be contradictory of me to say everyone is welcome and not include transgender people in that,» she added.

She also said she hoped an elite male footballer would soon feel emboldened to come out as gay, which would be a «game changer». Citing the fact that Marcus Rashford will have inspired youngsters with his campaign on school dinner provisions, she said the same inspirational effect could be had on children when the first player comes out.

«They will be admired around the world,» she said. «I’m really hoping and praying actually that a male player will come out whilst they’re playing because I think a lot of players come out as gay after they retire, because they just feel the risk is different. But I really hope that a player comes out during their playing career. And I think it would, I think it would change everything.»

Former PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Cleal, who was made an OBE this year for his work promoting diversity and inclusion and has worked with several footballing bodies, said progress was «patchy».  «There’s no question that we are still dealing with some of the deep rooted problems in society that we’ve had 40, 50 years ago,» he said. Studies on market representation in the late 60s and «the studies done last year are 50 years apart, but remarkably similar and that’s depressing», he added.

He added that the Rooney Rule «is a good proposal in practice». «It’s worked in the US and, you know, I think it could work here as long as we clearly have the right all the talents sufficient as it were,» he added.

Meanwhile, at least 30 per cent of board members of sports boards should be from an ethnic minority, Aluko told MPs investigating the lack of black leaders in the sector on Wednesday.

The Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee was also urged to ensure at least two directors of such organisations were non-white during an evidence session called following a Telegraph Sport report into the industry’s marginalisation of the black community.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, a review will be launched this week into rules governing the make-up of sports boards, which could see ethnicity targets set similar to those for gender.

Aluko, who was in January appointed Aston Villa’s first-ever sporting director for women’s football after announcing her retirement, told the committee: “We do need a target.”

Describing 30 per cent as “a good one”, she added: “When you look at other areas of football, there are mandatory rules which are put into place that challenge and change very quickly recruitment behaviour.”

Cleal, a black board member of several major organisations and an adviser to others, including the Premier League added to the committee that it would be hard for one ethnic minority director on a board to make “real change”.

“I think most bodies will need to have at least two partly to represent the breadth of diversity that the term ‘black and ethnic minority’ represents,” he said.

“It’s quite different as one minority on a board to make real change, having two people will make it easier for the individuals and they will be included.”

Telegraph Sport revealed last month how just three per cent of directors of taxpayer-funded sports organisations were black and that no Premier League club and virtually no English Football League club had a black owner, chairman or chief executive.