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LONDON (AP) — Norwich didn't fire Chris Hughton because he's black. The English soccer club fired him because it is petrified of dropping out of the Premier League and losing millions in revenue.
With that dismissal, every soccer manager next weekend will be white. Not just in the Premier League, but across England's top five divisions.
While English soccer prides itself on the progress it has made in attacking racism, there is an inescapable anomaly: More than a quarter of Premier League players are black but not one managers is.
Herman Ouseley, the longstanding chairman of English soccer's anti-racism body, Kick It Out, contends the game remains "institutionally racist."
"There isn't the drive and collective feeling of responsibility to become diverse," Ouseley told The Associated Press on Monday from the British parliament, where he sits in the House of Lords.
"That's because of the way they do business, the way they make decisions ... it's harder to be black and successful in a process where there is no proper process and accountability."
Norwich's commitment to fighting racism is evident. It backed police action against online abuse Hughton faced earlier this season.
But while the club is unlikely to win the Premier League, its legitimate ambitions of staying in the sport's top tier have been jeopardized by four losses in its last six matches. The team is five points above the relegation zone with five matches remaining.
Delia Smith, the co-owner who made her fortune from cook books and television shows, fears missing out on at least million in television revenue next season if Norwich falls to the second tier.
The 55-year-old Hughton's dismissal on Sunday followed a depressingly familiar pattern: no line of candidates appeared to be interviewed. Instead youth team coach Neil Adams was hastily promoted to his first senior managerial job.
Critics contend that by not opening jobs to a wider talent pool and simply going with soccer's known — and overwhelmingly white — managers, aspiring black coaches find it that much harder to land top jobs.
English soccer has been exploring whether to emulate the NFL and its Rooney Rule, which forces clubs to at least interview ethnic minorities for top jobs.
"It would be a huge step forward in England in terms of giving coaches and managers from ethnic minority backgrounds an opportunity to at least put their case forward," said former Blackburn and West Bromwich Albion striker Jason Roberts, who retired from playing last month and has campaigned on race issues.
The Rooney Rule was named after campaigning Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. A survey this season of 200 professional players in England found 62 percent backed the mandatory shortlisting of black and ethnic minority candidates for all nonplaying jobs.
But not all are convinced the NFL rule would work in English soccer. Even Ouseley acknowledges: "You can't transplant the same thing over here."
Since 1999, Major League Baseball has also had a requirement that for each manager and general manager and other senior position openings, at least one minority candidate must be considered.
Hughton was given his first coaching opening at Tottenham after playing for the club between 1979 and 1990, rising through the ranks and reaching the position of assistant manager before leaving in 2007. He went on to manage Newcastle and Birmingham before taking charge of Norwich in 2012.
There has been investment by English soccer authorities in courses for aspiring coaches — both male and female — from black and Asian backgrounds which can lead to the UEFA licenses required for top management jobs.
David Gold has been a soccer owner for more than 20 years, first at Birmingham and now at West Ham. He is white. He said a nonwhite manager has never approached him about a job.
"When I hear this constant thing — it's been going on for a number of years — this concern about 'Where are the black managers?' ... I have never interviewed a black candidate because a black candidate has not applied," Gold told a soccer diversity seminar for lawyers last year attended by the AP. "The applicants are just not there."
But ex-England striker Les Ferdinand, who is black, thinks his skin color is slowing his progress up soccer's ladder. While coaching at former club Tottenham, he has been studying corporate governance, along with 13 other former black professional players, including Roberts.
"I've always felt as a black person I've never been able to hold a position of authority," Ferdinand said.
"I felt I needed to do this course in the hope I can go one step further and break into the boardroom. We talk a lot about how we are going to get more black managers. Unless we can break into those boardrooms and show we can have positions of authority it won't happen."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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