THE phrase ‘positive discrimination’ seems oxymoronic at first glance. Like a ‘Scottish summer’, the two terms just don’t seem compatible. But then again, that is only the case if – like me – you have been fortunate enough to have been benefitting from your skin colour your entire life.

It is little wonder that there can be a lack of recognition from white people about the privilege and unconscious bias we enjoy, because we know nothing else. It is why a phrase such as positive discrimination makes so many people uncomfortable, and why many reading this article will probably rail against the notion. It is also perhaps why it has been relabelled as affirmative action.

But shouldn’t the best people for the job always get the position, regardless of their ethnicity? Unfortunately, the very fact that they don’t, is precisely the reason that affirmative action exists in the first place.

The point is that whether it is race, gender or sexuality, sometimes there is a need to redress the balance of the inherent and often unconscious bias that gives white men of a certain age a huge advantage over the rest of society.

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If you are in this category, you may not recognise such a notion, or any benefit to yourself for that matter, but it is starkly illustrated in top-level sport. And British football is a prime example.

In England, this has led to the introduction of the ‘Rooney Rule’, a form of affirmative action named after Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the National Football League.

The rule was brought into the NFL after the firing of two black coaches back in 2002, Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings.

Civil rights attorneys were able to show that the firing of these men formed part of a larger pattern throughout the sport, where black coaches were more likely to be fired and less likely to be hired than their white counterparts, despite winning a higher percentage of games across the board.

That led to the Rooney Rule being introduced in 2003, where teams are required to interview ethnic minority candidates for coaching roles, although no preference is given to those candidates when it comes to filling the role. This is a point worth repeating, because it is often used as a stick by which to beat such initiatives, but the Rooney Rule neither stops the best candidate from getting the job, nor does it prevent anyone who is not an ethnic minority from getting an interview. It simply ensures that all qualified candidates are considered, regardless of their ethnicity.

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The rule was adopted by The FA in 2018, guaranteeing that a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidate (if properly qualified) must be interviewed when advertising senior coaching roles. The Football League also introduced their own version of it, although the Premier League has yet to do so.

What led to the introduction of the initiative was the lack of BAME representation in coaching jobs, with PFA chairman Gordon Taylor seeing it as a way to erode what he called a “hidden resistance preventing black managers getting jobs”.

Last year, only 22 BAME coaches filled 482 jobs across the top four divisions in England, while only 2.6% of Premier League managers in history have been BAME. And according to the League Manager’s Association, almost two-thirds of those coaches were never given a second job.

In Scotland, the landscape is a little different, but the lack of BAME representation in coaching jobs is strikingly similar. Just four percent of the population here is non-white, while six percent of the 10,000 registered coaches are. But there is only one BAME manager currently working in any of the top four divisions - Kevin Harper of Albion Rovers.

Harper and the likes of Russell Latapy have been vocal in their criticism of the lack of opportunities given to BAME coaches in the past in Scotland, with his appointment at Cliftonhill last year representing the first time a black manager had taken charge of a team here in 15 years.

With that in mind, is it time for the SFA and the SPFL to look at adopting a version of the Rooney Rule in Scotland?

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Notably, many BAME coaches - including Harper – are uncomfortable with the idea that they should be given any preferential treatment. But fair and equitable treatment should surely be a given.

A lack of BAME players north of the border is a real issue here, as in the vast majority of cases, it is players who make the transition to become coaches at the top level. As well as tackling that in the long-term, greater transparency in the recruitment process could offer a quick solution.

Too often, as rather neatly illustrated recently at Celtic, the deck is often stacked towards those already connected at any particular club, and the formal interview process can be so informal that the candidate is wearing not much more than bubbles. Neil Lennon may well turn out to be the best man for the Celtic job, but the very fact he was offered it in the Hampden showers shows that there is still something of a cosy, closed-shop mentality in football.

Even the welcome diversity brought about with the introduction of Alex Dyer and Steven Reid onto Steve Clarke’s Scotland staff was facilitated by their past connections to Clarke. Would they even have been considered for those roles otherwise?

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It seems in Scottish football, it’s not what you know or even what your skin colour is, but who you know., making that world a difficult one for anyone from the outside to break into. Perhaps the Rooney Rule is the way to prick that bubble.

AND ANOTHER THING...

IT is hard to determine what was the greater embarrassment to Celtic this week, the leaking of the minutes from a meeting discussing transfers, or the contents of the document itself.

Either way, it served a purpose in convincing Celtic supporters - if any remained to be convinced - that the club is well shot of Lee Congerton Head of Recruitment.

The only issue now is that the void will have to be filled, with urgent business to carry out at Celtic. More than once recently, Peter Lawwell has referred to Neil Lennon's 'eye for a player', and the manager looks to be the one who will carry the responsibility, and subsequently the can, for the summer signings.