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Raheem Sterling and Frank Lampard are both correct, but that’s neither the question nor the issue

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It’s not personal, it’s systemic

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England Media Access - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It’s an issue that is not personal, but as the headlines yesterday prove once again, it’s certainly easier to talk about as if it were. But the issue of equal opportunity is not between Raheem Sterling and Frank Lampard. They are not the causes, nor are they principal actors and decision-makers.

“It’s about coming together and finding a solution to be able to spark change because we can talk as much as we want about changing and putting people, black people, in these positions that I do feel they should be in.

“For example, the coaching staff that you see around football clubs. I’ll give a perfect example. There’s Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, you have Sol Campbell and you have Ashley Cole.

“All had great careers, all played for England. At the same time, they’ve all respectfully done their coaching badges to coach at the highest level and the two that haven’t been given the right opportunities are the two black former players.”

-Raheem Sterling; source: BBC via Mail

Raheem Sterling is calling attention to the long-standing issue of lack of opportunities for Black (and minority) coaches in English football (and politics, too!). Frank Lampard meanwhile is defending his own qualifications for getting such opportunities, after a career filled with accusations of favoritism and nepotism working in his favor, and after being asked to respond as if Sterling was specifically criticizing him instead of the systemic, deep-rooted racism that is in place.

“In the actual case of managers, I think Raheem got it slightly wrong from my point of view. It felt like a very casual comparison because if you compare opportunities and pathways of individual managers you can compare myself, Steven, Sol Campbell, who did an incredible job at Macclesfield and is doing a job at Southend that any of us would find very difficult to do.

“Compare Ashley Cole who finished his career with me at Derby County last year and is working his way here (at Chelsea’s academy), doing a great job and I think he is going to be successful whatever he wants to do. So I think it is very hard to make that comparison from the outside.”

“Those opportunities have to be equal for everybody, I think we all agree on that but within that then there are the details of how hard you have worked. I certainly worked from the start of my career to try and get this opportunity and there are a million things that knock you, set you back, you fight against.

-Frank Lampard; source: Telegraph

But it’s not about that, and it’s unlikely what Sterling intended either. The issue isn’t Lampard getting the Chelsea job, which came about as a perfect storm of multiple factors. Sterling’s goal as a leading voice in English football isn’t to personally deny Lampard his opportunity. It’s to ensure that all others also deserving of opportunities have the right opportunities as well.

“I want change. The change is being able to speak to people in parliament, people at the hierarchy at my football club — not just my football club, football clubs across the country, people at the national team of England, to implement change and give equal chances to black coaches — and not just black coaches, but also different ethnicities.

“I just really want to say, black coaches most importantly. To give black coaches — not just coaches but people in their respective fields — the right opportunity. I feel like that’s what’s lacking here. It’s not just taking the knee, it is about giving people the chance they deserve.”

-Raheem Sterling; source: BBC via Mail

Sterling, in his interview earlier this month, didn’t deny that Lampard worked hard to get to where he’s at, but the fact remains that “the percentage of black players in English football is nowhere near reflected in coaching, management or senior positions off the field”. That’s not Lampard’s fault, but by having to defend himself, the issue is turned personal (and, again, more easily sellable for the media).

In fact, Lampard is fully supportive of Sterling’s efforts to advocate for meaningful change and use his position as a prominent footballer to be a leading light in the fight against racism and discrimination.

“I think there is certainly an argument and I think we are moving forward and we can move more quickly, where players are getting equal opportunities when they move into management and not just players, young coaches who come into the game.

“The FA do a lot of good work. I’ve just finished my Pro Licence. It was very diverse, it was very open. That needs to be encouraged. If there are any things we can do to help make sure that everybody gets equal opportunities and a pathway into management, it needs to be done and the numbers suggest there are things that need to be done.

“With Raheem, I think the individual comparison, when you don’t have the detail of each person’s pathway, wasn’t quite right. But, again, I will level that out because I want to say Raheem Sterling as a person and player, and what he has stood up for in the last two years has been fantastic.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Telegraph

While Lampard does seem to believe that football is “moving forward” in this regard, comments like the ones from Premier League CEO Richard Master recently paint a less willing picture of progress.

“Lots of organisations have diversity targets and we all consider them. There is going to be an ongoing dialogue with clubs about discrimination generally. I think it’s an important topic. Again, I wouldn’t want to make predictions about it. What’s most important is that there are no barriers to entry.”

“So far we haven’t discussed [implementing a Rooney Rule]. It hasn’t been a topic of discussion... I think there are discussions to be had but no current plans to put that back on the agenda.”

-Richard Masters; source: Mail

There’s a lot of work to be done in this regard, in football, in other sports, in the world at large. Sterling and Lampard can both play important parts in this necessary change.