Could a version of the ‘Rooney Rule’ help in SEA?

Scott McIntyre Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre discusses whether a version of the ‘Rooney Rule’ could help long-term development of football in Southeast Asia.

The English Football Association made global headlines this week when they announced they would ensure that ‘minority’ candidates would have equal opportunity to all coaching roles within the FA and it’s worth pondering whether there is a need for such an approach in Asian football as well.

The so-called ‘Rooney Rule’ – named after a late champion of diversity in American football, not the headline-grabbing English striker – has been in place in the NFL for more than a decade and ensures that teams must interview a minority candidate for any head coaching position that becomes open. Since 2009 it’s also been a requirement for all senior management roles within the NFL itself.

Earlier this week the Chief Executive of the Football Association, Martin Glenn, announced that they will adopt the policy to ensure that at least one BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) candidate will be interviewed for all future coaching posts at national level.

That follows a move in 2016 by the EFL (English Football League) clubs that at least one black or minority candidate should be interviewed for all posts at academy level with both moves a concerted effort to try and increase the number of BAME coaches working within the game. The current number is pitifully low with only five such coaches at the 92 professional clubs in the English system.

Despite predictable resistance from the usual channels in England the move is a long-awaited and positive one and it’s worth considering whether such a policy should be in place in a host of nations across Asia.

Whilst there certainly is an issue in terms of ‘minority’ candidates being handed equal opportunity in many leagues across the continent in the specific context of Southeast Asian football it’s more a case of local coaches – regardless of their ethnicity – being overlooked in favour of (quite often far less qualified) foreign candidates at both club and national level.

If we look at the national teams across the region each of Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei & Myanmar have foreign men holding the top post and if we exclude those with either a current vacancy or a caretaker in place remarkably it’s only Singapore that actually has a national in charge of its national team – not that it’s working particularly well for the island nation.

Sundram: The exception to the rule.

In terms of the club game, in the top division in Thailand eight of the 18 clubs began the season with foreign coaches in place and four others that started with locals saw that man replaced by a foreign option during the season.

Almost half of the coaches in charge of top-flight clubs (6 of 14) in Malaysia last season were foreigners and that was also the case in Singapore’s S-League (4 of 9) as well as Indonesia’s Liga 1 where eight of the 18 clubs had a foreigner in charge at some point.

It’s worth noting that the two major exceptions in continental Southeast Asia were Myanmar where just two of the top-flight clubs had foreign men in charge and Vietnam where the V.League began and ended with only one foreign coach in the entire league.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that these two nations are amongst the fastest rising in the region and beyond and it’s certainly worth pondering whether the move to employ a host of local coaches – not just at club but also national level – has been a significant contributing factor to these successes.

It’s also worth noting that at the AFC U23 Championships that began in China this week that a majority of nations (10 of 16) have locals at the helm and that’s generally accepted as being the best way to groom the next generation of leaders but surprisingly that’s not the case for the two strongest nations in the region in Thailand and Vietnam.

With the clamour for star names and a desire to improve football across all levels throughout the region it’s often overlooked that the most important component of this is in coaching.

Although it also holds true that standards across the region are mixed it’s undeniable that many has been the time that a qualified local has been overlooked for a foreign option with supposedly a better CV, so perhaps it’s time for football in Asia to have the discussion about whether or not the ‘Rooney Rule’ is needed in our home too.