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By Tony Attwood
Five years ago there were no Black or Asian referees in the Football League or Premier League. Not one. Worse, none of the national media was mentioning the fact. (Of course, maybe there was an article or two critical of the lack of lack of diversity, but if so I must have missed them. But I can say for sure, there weren’t many, and this is a rather important topic.)
The explanation given then and still given now was “numerous and complex: an ancient governance structure riddled with nepotism; a progression pathway vulnerable to racism and confirmation bias; and a talent development process responsible for developing elite officials that predominantly excluded Black, Asian and mixed heritage referees.”
Indeed as the same article also says, “No Black, Asian or mixed heritage official has taken charge of a major English cup final.”
So why is that? When the UK has a Prime Minister who had African-born Hindu parents of Indian Punjabi descent, why has football still not been able to integrate people of different ethnic origins into PGMO?
Now if this were any other organisation, the lack of non-white referees would be a matter of significant debate, but it isn’t. Which raises the question: Why not?
We have had a black referee working in the top division: Uriah Rennie who retired in 2008, and since then there may have been one or two – although I must admit I can’t remember any.
So two questions arise: why are there no PL referees of non-white heritage now and why is no one making a fuss about it?
In fact, one organisation does track this problem: the Szymanski Report which examines the representation of Black people in English Football – and the 2022 Szymanski Report, compared the representation of Black players in the top four English professional leagues with the representation of Black employees in management positions in football clubs.
To quote from their summary “The February 2022 and now the March 2023 statistical reports show that while black players represent a very large proportion of all players and footballers with coaching badges, black representation in management remains negligible and shows little signs of improving.”
Now this of course is important because the report has revealed that 43% of players in English Premier League and 34% in the English Football League were Black in 2021.
Further, “Only 8.9% of players who were active in professional English football between 2004 and 2020 and progressed into club managerial or administrative roles usually taken by former players were Black. Former Black players are particularly under-represented in the roles of scouting or junior coaching levels.”
“Black players accounted for 14% of known UEFA Pro Licence holders who graduated under the FA, and 23% of all those Licence holders who were professional players
between 2004 and 2020. This suggests that the under-representation of black players in managerial positions is not attributable to a lack of qualifications.”
So let’s consider in 2022 report showing black employees making up 43% of Premier League and 34% of Championship players – 43 and 34 in every 100 jobs respectively. But there have in recent years, to the best of my knowledge been no black PGMO officials. Now I could be wrong- although I am bolstered in the belief that ths is right by a headline that says
Since Uriah Renee retired in 2008 and since then we have had 15 and a bit seasons of Premier League football which makes up getting on for 2000 games, and not one has been refereed by a person who was not white.
At the simplest level that suggests that PGMO has not been carrying out the part of every employer in England’s responsibility of ensuring that the organisation that person runs is not racist. Put another way the total lack of non-white referees since Uriah Renee suggests that at the very least the PGMO has a case of in-built racism to answer.
But then the Premier League has not been seen to raise the issue, which suggests once again that the Premier League will do nothing other than bend the knee to the PGMO.
Now we also know that PGMO is the ultimate secret society in England. It has no website, and makes no explanations as to why some referees get to see the same club repeatedly, while others don’t. It will not explain why it cannot employ enough referees to ensure that each referee only oversees matches of each PL club twice in a season – something we have been calling for, for years, and which would help reduce accusations of bias.
Nor does PGMO explain why it will not put referees up for interviews on TV, as in some countries. Instead, it appears that referees are whisked away from the ground in a designated car with a designated driver.
Nor does it explain why it allows referees to travel to Saudi Arabia, fly back and then oversee a match involving a club that is effectively owned by Saudi Arabia.
I am not in any way suggesting that PGMO is a corrupt organisation. Of course, I can’t do that, because I don’t have enough information because PGMO is an ultra-secret organisation. But one thing is clear – when one has an ultra-secret organisation, there will always be suspicions that where there is secrecy for no explained reason, the secrecy is there to hide something else, such as corruption or racism.
One black referee back on the circuit is better than none – but still not enough to overcome the reasonable suspicions that something is wrong within both PGMO for allowing this. Just as having a proportion of non-white referees reflective of the percentage of non-white footballers is utterly obvious and a helpful thing to do.
It would be good to know why PGMO has failed to follow this path. Perhaps they would like to tell us. If they will offer a statement or article I will publish it in full, without any comment or alternation from myself or any of my fellow writers on Untold.
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