Racial reckoning in boardrooms and dugouts as EPL resumes

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Real Madrid's Marcelo takes a knee as he celebrates his goal during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Eibar at Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, June 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

When the time came to vote on restarting the Premier League, no black chief executives or chairmen from the English clubs were involved. There aren’t any across the 20 teams, nor in the leadership of the world’s richest league.

As the league’s 100-day pandemic-enforced shutdown ends on Wednesday, a competition that prides itself on attracting multicultural talent from across the world on the field, is facing a racial reckoning.

There are owners or chief executives of Asian, Indian or Middle Eastern heritage. But the lack of black leaders across the Premier League has appeared jarring amid a groundswell of activism by players demanding an end to inequalities, roused by the brutal police killing of George Floyd in the United States.

“It raises all that exclusion, inequality, injustice,” Paul Elliott, the former Chelsea player now chairing the English Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board, told The Associated Press. “It’s been that bridge, that catalyst for the injustice, the unconscious bias, given the popularity of the participants of football being around 30% black and very few in the administrative, executive and boardroom areas.”

Players of all races have already taken a knee as entire squads at training grounds across England. Over the next week, they will take to the field at Premier League stadiums wearing “Black Lives Matter” instead of their names on the back of jerseys.

“The knee and the solidarity behind that will eventually phase out,” Elliott said. “But the problem is still going to be here with us. Then it’s about a cogent, coherent strategy across football -- from the touchline to the boardroom. There has to be a whole reset and accountability.”

Especially in a season when a Premier League game was paused for the first time for warnings about racial abuse in the stands when Tottenham played Chelsea in December.

The toxic elements of football fandom were highlighted outside the British Parliament on Saturday during scuffles featuring far-right activists with police while claiming to be guarding historical monuments that have been targeted recently by anti-racism protesters for their links to slavery and British colonialism. On what should have been the opening weekend of the European Championship, which was postponed due to the pandemic, football chants were adopted by hooligans in the disorder.