Discrimination doesn’t solve discrimination

BBC Sport – Racism row: PFA issues six-point action plan.

Here’s two points of the PFA’s six-point action plan.

  • An English form of the “Rooney rule”  – introduced by American football’s National Football League in 2003 – to make sure qualified ethnic minority coaches are on interview lists for job vacancies
  • The proportion of black coaches and managers to be monitored and any inequality or progress highlighted

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, here we have the footballer’s union advocating positive discrimination in an attempt to ensure there are more black football coaches at professional level. Positive discrimination involves giving special privileges to a group of people, often defined by race, that is deemed to have been disadvantaged by unjust discrimination in the past. This is the same attempted ‘solution’, resorted to by government, to the social problem of unjust discrimination against blacks, asians and other ethnic minorities by employers in society at large. (For the record, I don’t deny that prejudices did and still do exist in society to some degree or other). The underlying reasoning behind positive discrimination, otherwise known as the Equal Opportunities Act, is that each employer’s workforce should be made up of proportions of each ethnic group similar to that of society as a whole. It holds that any other state of affairs is unjust and must be the result of prejudice on the part of employers. It also holds that there is only a cost to those who are discriminated against, and not to the discriminator.

The advocating of positive discrimination by the PFA is based on the premise that approximately 25% of the 92 professional coaches (or at least some higher proportion) ought to be black because 25% of professional footballers are black. In other words, this ‘correct’ or ‘natural’ state is being prevented from being realised because of unjust discrimination by football club owners because of a prejudice against black coaches. Currently, approximately 3% of the coaches at the 92 professional football clubs are black. But is this premise correct? Is it correct to expect the proportion of black coaches amongst the 92 clubs to be higher than 3% and much closer to 25%?

The PFA are referring specifically here to players who after retirement go into coaching. They are arguing that, in the absence of a prejudice against black people, which they believe exists, there would be more black coaches amongst the 92 professional football clubs. The mistake they are making is in assuming that the small number of black coaches at the top-level must be because of a prejudice amongst the owners of the top football clubs. It’s a mistake because there’s no objective way of proving this assumption to be true. Furthermore, we don’t even know what percentage of black (or indeed white) players acquire the necessary qualifications to coach at a professional level after they’ve retired. Nor do we know how many black coaches leave the UK to coach elsewhere, for cultural reasons. There may be many other factors involved, some quantifiable, some not.

The problem with using discrimination to solve a problem of discrimination that you assume without evidence to exist is that you just end up with more discrimination. If football clubs are forced to interview qualified black coaches, then it could be that someone else who was better suited to the club, will miss out. From the point of view of the advocate of positive discrimination this isn’t a problem, in fact this is desired, but from the point of view of the club and the coach who misses out it is undesired. The club might miss out on the best person for the job because they are being forced to discriminate based on skin colour and the coach might miss out on a job because of his skin colour. Also, there’s a clear danger of fostering resentment from clubs towards black coaches for being forced to interview them, and from white coaches towards black coaches as a result of the special privileges they have been given. However, to the positive discrimination advocate, none of this matters, all that matters is that more black coaches will get interviews. Nor do they give any thought to whether a black coach would actually want to work at a club with people who – if we assume prejudice against black coaches exists – were coerced into employing him. They also fail to recognise the cost to those who discriminate against people based on their skin colour. In doing so they reduce the pool of talent they have to choose from, which only makes it harder for them to find the best person for the job.

Even if we assume that the PFA is right and that there is a prejudice against black coaches, positive discrimination still isn’t the right means to employ to solve the problem because it only leads to more discrimination. The solution to a falsehood like racism is the truth. The solution is education. Educate people so that they understand why having a prejudice against black people is wrong and only harmful to themselves in the long run.

The goal of having more black coaches amongst the 92 professional football clubs could well be achieved if the PFA gets its way, but the point is why have a goal of  ‘equalising’ the amount of coaches from different ethnic backgrounds? It’s a perverse, contradictory and hypocritical goal for a group that claims to be acting against discrimination based on skin colour to have. For the only way to achieve ‘equalization’ of ethnicities is to actively discriminate based on skin colour. That’s the thing about using coercion to try to solve a problem, it almost always ends up achieving the exact opposite of its intended goal. Which is only what the PFA will and can achieve if it gets its way.


  1. You are much too sensitive if you believe that asking that a certain number of minority coaches simply be interviewed is discrimination and will actually cost white people jobs? No club run by rich gentlemen is ever going to miss out on anything. When was the last time that you saw rich folks miss out on having what they want?


    • Thanks for your comment. I should point out that it’s not that I believe that it is discrimination, it’s that it IS discrimination by definition. Maybe it won’t cost anyone, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still discrimination. I make the point that it is perverse for a group claiming to be against discrimination to actively engage in it. It’s like a guy who just stole your car saying that theft is wrong. You can’t possibly take what he says seriously. In summary, acting in a discriminatory fashion will not achieve the goal of elimating discrimination; it merely substitutes one type for another. I hope that clarifies.


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