By Zayn Nabbi, CNN
(CNN) — Manchester United and England great Rio Ferdinand said soccer’s leadership structures need to “quickly” address issues around diversity and representation as “decisions are being made by people that don’t have a complete understanding or empathy with the people that are actually on the football pitch.”
Speaking to CNN ahead of a roundtable, entitled “A Seat At The Table,” which focuses on representation in sport and premiers on TNT Sports 1 at 8 p.m. BST on October 19 (streaming on discovery+ in the UK), Ferdinand gave his candid views of what needed to change at organizations, even saying he’d be open at taking up a leadership position.
“I think you look at my sport, football, you look at the pitch, you look at grassroots, it’s a huge mix,” Ferdinand said.
“But the representation on the pitch isn’t reflected in other areas of football, especially where decisions are being made,” added Ferdinand.
“So, we’re making decisions for the game, but … decisions are being made by people that don’t have a complete understanding or empathy with the people that are actually on the football pitch. So I think that needs to change hugely and quickly.”
According to a 2023 report by the Black Footballers’ Partnership, 4.4% of management-related positions in English soccer’s four professional leagues – Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two – were held by Black employees, rising from 3.7% in 2022, a real term increase of eight jobs.
In 2021-22, 83 coaching positions were advertised by English Football League clubs. There were 1,597 applications for those roles, of which 19% (300) were from minority candidates.
Just over half of those 300 applicants had the necessary coaching qualifications required to be eligible for the vacant position and 81 (23%) got to the interview stage. Just over a quarter (22) were successful.
Ferdinand highlighted West London club Brentford FC for their “diversity throughout from top to bottom” and he said the club was “a good example and they’re leading the way in that sense, and I think a lot of clubs could maybe look at them.”
Earlier this year, in the club’s second season in English soccer’s top flight, Brentford was recognised by the Premier League for its work around equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
Preeti Shetty and Deji Davies are on the club’s board – the first South Asian female and only Black British male respectively serving on the board of a Premier League club, according to Brentford – while Black administrator Lorna Falconer is the head of football operations at the club and former Black professional footballer Justin Cochrane is head of coaching.
Ferdinand also stressed how committed he was to diversity and inclusion in his own businesses and spoke of having to address this very issue himself.
He said: “I was sent a deck and the deck had the pictures and the names and job titles of a few of the senior people in the company. And I looked at it and I just sent it back and said, ‘we can’t send out.’
“I’m shocked actually, I’m the only person of color on that, out of those six names and six pictures. ‘Scrap that, change it.’
“I genuinely want to go for the best people, or actually the people coming through the door, but sometimes you’ve got to go out into the community and go, no, no, come in. Because a lot of people think that doors are closed. A lot of doors at these big companies are closed and a lot of people will be thinking the door at our company’s closed. It’s too much of a big distance for me to go to that.”
“We’re going to go into the community and reach out and even if you need to be trained and you haven’t got the experience, because diversity is a huge importance to me personally,” he added.
Ferdinand, who captained England, won multiple Premier League titles, and the Champions League, said he would be open to moving into a leadership position within the sport.
“Yeah, I think I will. I think I can. And I think I will at some point. Not right now. I think I’m involved in many businesses that need me and my time,” he said.
“There will be a time, I’m sure, when I’ll be ready to step into one of those types of roles. At what level? I don’t know. What organization? I don’t know. But I think I can. And I think I will.”
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Watch Black History Month – A Seat At The Table on TNT Sports 1 at 8 p.m. BST on 19 October with streaming on discovery+ This will only be available for viewers in the UK and Ireland, with streaming on discovery+ just for UK viewers.