The merits or otherwise of a Black History Month have been well rehearsed over the years. In a perfect world, black history would be celebrated and debated every day of every month of every year and there would be no need for a specific black history month. When you consider that ‘people of colour’ account for four out of every five people on our planet, it seems only natural that black history should be at the very heart of the human story. That it is not, says everything about the lingering racism and colonial mentality within European society, even within the so-called respected, liberal media and academia. Until such time as the poisonous boil of racial superiority is finally lanced from the human psyche, there will still be a pressing need for events like BHM, and when one considers the marginal status of black people in the higher echelons of our sporting hierarchies, the need to highlight the social inequities surrounding questions of race and colour is as strong as ever.


This marginalisation of Black and Asian people in the managerial strata of British sport was well highlighted in two recent articles; one by Anna Kessel in The Observer 31/10/10, the other in an interview with Zesh Rehman by Chris Arnot, in the Society Guardian 13/10/10. In Kessel’s piece, we learn of the depressing fact that black football players seem to find it incredibly difficult to make the transition from player to management. Currently there are only two non-white people in professional football management in the entire 92 team professional football structure; Chris Hughton at Newcastle and Paul Ince, recently recruited at Notts County. This is a bazaar situation given the growing percentage of highly successful black footballers. In a world free from prejudice, one would expect a fair percentage of those black players making the transition to management but if anything the situation is deteriorating rather than improving.

A similar if worse situation exists with regards to South Asian representation in professional football, and here we are talking of any level, let alone management. Zesh Rehman is one of the very few such Asians to have made it to the professional level of football and he outlines in the interview how he has dedicated himself to making it a little easier for those who might wish to follow in his foot steps.

It is not all bleak news with respect to progress in the professional game. Black players are not only readily accepted throughout the professional football, they have become many a supporter’s footballing hero. What a change from the days of Paul Canoville being racially abused from the terraces not just by the opposition fans but by his own Chelsea supporters. Racist chanting has largely subsided and black supporters are a common and integral part of most football grounds. The well targeted ‘Kick it Out’ Campaigns have been successful though at the local, non-professional level I’m told things still have a long way to go.

In my own sport of table tennis, the picture is pretty much the same. The sport is well represented by Black and Asian people in the inner cities, but as you leave the major conurbations the sport takes on a distinctly white, middle class appearance. As for senior management, it is virtually a no-go area for Black and Asian people with the exception of one or two highly respected Black coaches. The arrival of the Greenhouse Schools Project has improved matters considerably in London, but London is not the whole country.

When I used to work for the governing body I used to regularly raise this matter on the equal opportunities committee. With the exception of the Sport England representative, all the other delegates looked at me as if I was from another planet. After a year or two I was quietly shuffled off the committee after an ‘administrative reorganisation’.

Of course, nobody in the organisation was openly racist, and I thought the majority to be good minded people, but I think there is a persuasive argument in favour of the term, ‘institutional racism’. I suspect this is true throughout the governing bodies of British sport. Sport England initiatives to break this mentality are well intentioned but the dead weight of all those colonial centuries are hard to shift. After a few promising workshops and well directed leaflets and posters, things always seem to quietly slip back into the old mould.

How then to permanently change the mind-set? I argued then and still do that only a pro-active policy of positive discrimination in recruitment will make any long term difference, but the tired and dull old arguments against this policy invariably won the day. I was gently humoured and cleverly marginalised to the point of being seen as a bit of a loveable odd ball. Oh yes, I got an annual award for promoting equal opportunities in my local club, but at national level, nothing seems to change, or if it does, that change is so imperceptible as to go unnoticed. To be proved wrong in the above assessment would be welcomed, but I fear the worst. Like professional football, the managerial status quo in most governing bodies of sport remains stubbornly in place. So for the foreseeable future BHM will need to keep on banging the drum until the colonial mentality becomes so absurd as to become finally and totally redundant.

End JPK 1/11/10 Copyright

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