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Bartley calls for 'Rooney Rule' in sport and society to help get black and ethnic minority groups 'around the table'

Marlow FC boss Mark Bartley hasn’t always been comfortable with the idea of positive discrimination for black and ethnic minorities in sport or in wider society, believing that people should be judged on their character and ability rather than on the colour of their skin.

But, in light of the shocking death of George Floyd in police custody in America and growing calls for a more equal society, spearheaded by the Black Lives Matters movement, perhaps now is the time to promote BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) candidates into more prominent roles.

Bartley believes an undertone of racism which washes through society is preventing black people from taking up these positions.

The case for doing so is stark. There is an alarming lack of BAME board members at the top of the country’s major sporting bodies.

The Football Association: 11 board members, zero black; Lawn Tennis Association: 12 board members, zero black; The England and Wales Cricket Board: 12 members, zero black; Rugby Football Union: 14 board members, zero black; Swim England: 12 board members, zero black; UK Athletics: nine board members, one black; England Hockey: six board members, zero black; British Cycling: 12 board members, zero black; Rugby Football League: seven board members, zero black; England Golf: 12 board members, zero black; British Horseracing Authority: 11 board members, zero black; Sport England: 11 board members, two black; UK Sport: 10 board members, zero black.

One step which could be taken is the adoption of NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’, a policy which sees NFL clubs in America shortlist at least one BAME candidate for every head coach or senior operation role. While organisations don’t have to fill a quota of BAME hires, it does give ethnic minorities, as Bartley says, a chance ‘to get around the table’.

It won’t make a huge difference overnight, and has had mixed success since being introduced in the English Football League (EFL), but Bartley thinks it would show there's a willingness for change.

“I was against it a while ago because I wouldn’t want to be in a position where someone could say I’ve only been given this (role) because of my colour,” he said.

“But I saw the list of black board members and you had to cobble black and ethnic minorities together to even get that number.

“Do you know what I think we’re at the stage where we do need it (interview targets and quotas/Rooney Rule) because we’ve tried other avenues and it’s not working. It’s all about getting someone to the table.

“Just allowing them to have that conversation, even if they’re not successful in getting that role.

“It would go some way to changing the views and opinions of some chairman or board and, if that happens, it would have a positive impact.

“For me I think we actually need to do that. If you look at football in England, you would probably need that rule down to step one of the National League. Yeah, I think we need to try it now because this is where we are unfortunately.”

He added: “People have said to me you can’t speak out on this because chairman might not want to employ me. And to that I say ‘OK, cool, good for them’. Because there would be no longevity in them employing me because the relationship would break down because I am outspoken and nobody is going to take that away from me.

“There needs to be a collaborative effort from the other ethnic minority managers in terms of trying to increase the knowledge and understanding.

“I’ll try and spread the message but we need the corridors of power to stand by us and right now, I don’t think the FA are willing to do that. That’s what we need. I think the players at the top level will help us. You’ve got the guys taking the knee and that will help raise the message.”

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