Gareth Southgate has urged people to speak out against white privilege in football as he described the blocking of pathways for black coaches, managers and executives as the “biggest crime”.

The England manager believes the Football Association is working to make “the boardroom more representative, and that is gender as well as race”. But it is plain that there remains a long way to go and, with the Black Lives Matter movement prominent around the world, he feels it is a “moment for change”.

Southgate opened up as he considered the comments of Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City and England winger, from the beginning of the week. Sterling questioned why Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard had been given high-profile manager jobs after ending their playing careers whereas Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole had not, as he shone a light on the lack of BAME representation in positions of authority in the British game.

Gerrard took over at Rangers after coaching in the Liverpool academy for a little over a year while Lampard, now at Chelsea, got the Derby job a year or so after his retirement. Campbell, who has managed Macclesfield and Southend, has repeatedly spoken out about the prejudices he has encountered in the fight for opportunity at the highest levels. Cole hung up his boots last August and is the Chelsea under-15s coach.

“I think Ashley Cole is developing very well and on a similar route to what Steven did – in that Steven worked in Liverpool’s academy for a couple of years,” Southgate said. “On a broader scale, we lack that representation. The biggest crime for us in any area if we’re adults looking at kids is if they sit and think that a path in life isn’t possible. And is not accessible.

“I heard Jermain Defoe say a few days ago: ‘Is it worth me taking my [coaching] qualifications?’ We have to avoid the feeling that you can’t achieve something because that stops some people going for it. We have to make sure the opportunity is there when people are qualified and capable. And then, of course, they have to grasp that opportunity. If they can do well, they’ll role model what’s possible to the next generation.”

Southgate namechecked Justin Cochrane, the England under-16s coach, as “somebody who is going to be a top coach”. He said: “We also shouldn’t look just at the ex-players or high-profile players because so many of the top managers haven’t been top, top international players. That route must also be open to black coaches that haven’t played at the highest level. There will be some super bright lads out there who have come through universities – they might go the route that a Graham Potter has taken by going back into university. We’ve got to make sure that all of those pathways are open.”

Southgate admitted that he had become more aware of white privilege as he got older, having not noticed it during his playing days, when being selected or not was “one of the few areas that was a meritocracy”. He got his break in management at Middlesbrough in 2006, shortly after retiring as a player at the club, despite not having his Uefa Pro Licence.

“I know that I got an opportunity at Middlesbrough when I wasn’t qualified,” Southgate said. “That came because I had worked at the club and the owner knew me. But I couldn’t say that opportunity would have been there for somebody else. And I think we are all very conscious of it.

“The power of what is happening at the moment is that people are standing together and these observations, these deeper-seated issues are rightly leading to the broader debate on opportunity, on privilege, and it’s important people speak out. I do feel there is a moment for change but I’m also conscious that we’ve been here before.

“People have spoken brilliantly over the last week – people like Troy Townsend, Chris Grant and David Olusoga. A lot of that will be uncomfortable for white people, in particular, but they are critical voices to be heard.

“It’s also important to hear from white voices because ultimately they are going to be in the positions to open up opportunity. We are the ones who have to be educated.”

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