Black players are an established part of the national game at all levels, from Thierry Henry, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell down, and racist abuse has been almost driven out of football grounds.
But despite the progress in eradicating the most unsavoury elements from football over the past 30 years, the sport was heavily criticised by a government-backed report yesterday for failing to reflect England's rapidly changing ethnic make-up.
In a damning portrait of white dominance of the sport at senior levels, the Independent Football Commission (IFC) criticised the lack of black and Asian people in the game's governing bodies and in club boardrooms. It said it was dissatisfied that there were so few ethnic minority managers or coaches, except at youth level, and noted that Uriah Rennie was the only prominent black referee.
The commission also complained that there were still "exceptionally few" Asian players either in professional football or coming through the clubs' youth schemes, despite the proliferation of Asian leagues in recent years.
Perhaps most damningly, it pointed out "there aren't many non-white faces in the crowd", with just 2 per cent of fans describing themselves as from an ethnic minority, compared with nearly one in ten of the English population overall.
"That there has been virtually no growth over the years in the numbers of ethnic minorities attending football matches does not chime with the growing interest in football among the current generation of ethnic minorities, nor the direct evidence of the growth and popularity of football in areas where there are large ethnic minority populations," it said. "The most widely-voiced conclusion outside the clubs was that football grounds are not considered to be safe or welcoming if you are black or Asian."
Warning that the professional game was widely perceived to be "institutionally racist" among minority groups, the commission set the sport a three-year target to recruit more black and Asian supporters.
It praised initiatives by clubs in areas with large ethnic minority communities, including Leicester City, Leeds United, Rotherham Town and Oldham Athletic. But it warned that such schemes were still producing few positive results. Leicester, home to an ethnic minority population of more than 100,000, attracted fewer than 600 fans from these communities to home games, the commission noted.
It said: "The IFC suggest football widens its net - and ethnic representation in the boardrooms, on FA committees, the FA council and the boards of Premier League and Football League clubs, as well as senior management on and off the pitch, is an achievable target over the next three years. If only an Asian player could be seen lifting one of the major club trophies; if only more black and Asian referees stayed the course and didn't find racial comments just one set of abuse too much on top of the referee's usual quota, and if only there was a black or Asian chairman at a Premier League club."
Garth Crooks, the former Tottenham Hotspur striker, who is a commission member, said: "This report is not about a token black face here and there. It is about the strategic appointment of skilled individuals from ethnic minority groups to key positions."
Mark Palios, chief executive at the Football Association, promised action to improve diversity among staff. He said: "The FA is passionate about ensuring that all people are treated fairly and with respect in football. We are committed to ongoing action, identifying where inequalities exist and taking firm steps to address them."
He also promised that the FA would look to increase the representation of women and disabled people in the game.
The Premier League stressed its commitment to meeting racial equality standards, while accepting that there were "perceived shortcomings'' in the numbers of black and Asian managers, coaches and administrators.
Sir Brian Mawhinney, chairman of the Football League, said the league would consult with clubs on the issues raised.
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