Greg Clarke: Football Association chairman apologises for remark about black players

Greg Clarke
Clarke has been chairman of the Football Association for more than four years

Warning: This report contains offensive language.

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has apologised for a reference to black players when talking to MPs about diversity.

Clarke said it was inappropriate for him to have used the term “coloured footballers”.

He had been talking by video link to members of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

“If I said it, I deeply apologise,” said Clarke, 63, after being prompted to say sorry by MP Kevin Brennan.

“I am a product of having worked overseas, in the USA for many years, where I was required to use the term ‘people of colour’ because that was a product of their diversity legislature. Sometimes I trip over my words.”

Brennan said it was the kind of language that did not encourage inclusion, while fellow committee member Alex Davies-Jones called it “abhorrent”.

The equality charity Kick It Out said his remark should be “consigned to the dustbin of history” and criticised further comments by Clarke concerning people from South Asia, gay players and female footballers.

An FA spokesperson said afterwards that Clarke acknowledged his language was inappropriate.

“Greg Clarke is deeply apologetic for the language he used to reference members of the ethnic minority community during the select committee hearing today,” said the spokesperson.

Clarke had been talking about racist abuse of players by trolls on social media.

“People can see if you’re black and if they don’t like black people because they are filthy racists, they can abuse you anonymously online,” he said.

He had earlier spoken of the need to attract people into the sport from a range of communities.

“If you go to the IT department of the FA, there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests,” said Clarke.

Clarke had actually been called to give evidence to the DCMS committee about the Premier League’s potential bailout of English Football League clubs and the structural reforms proposed as part of ‘Project Big Picture’.

But he prompted further criticism when referring to gay players making a “life choice” and a coach telling him young female players did not like having the ball hit hard at them.

Reaction

Sanjay Bhandari, executive chair at Kick It Out, said Clarke’s comments were outdated.

“I was particularly concerned by the use of lazy racist stereotypes about South Asians and their supposed career preferences. It reflects similar lazy stereotypes I have heard have been spouted at club academy level,” he said.

“Being gay is not a ‘life choice’ as he claimed too. The casual sexism of saying ‘girls’ do not like balls hit at them hard, is staggering from anyone, let alone the leader of our national game. It is completely unacceptable.”

David Bernstein, former FA chairman, told BBC Sport: “I am just surprised that the chair of any organisation who’s got a feel of what’s going on in the year 2020 could use those types of words, that sort of language. It’s just inappropriate.”

Darren Bent, former England striker: “Slip of the tongue was it? Awful, just awful.”

Anton Ferdinand, former West Ham, Sunderland and QPR defender: “Clearly education is needed at all levels.”

Julian Knight, DCMS select committee chairman: “It’s right that Greg Clarke apologised before the committee. However, this isn’t the first time that the FA has come to grief over these issues. It makes us question their commitment to diversity.”

Alex Davies-Jones, committee member: “The language used by Greg Clarke in our meeting this morning was absolutely abhorrent. It speaks volumes about the urgent progress that needs to made in terms of leadership on equalities issues in sport. I can’t believe we’re still here in 2020.”

Analysis

BBC sports editor Dan Roan

Three years ago – in front of the same parliamentary committee, Greg Clarke was criticised for referring to institutional racism as “fluff”. He apologised after being chastised by MPs and reminded that language matters.

It appears the message did not get through.

Two weeks after the Football Association launched a new diversity code with the aim of finally tackling racial inequality in the game, the governing body’s commitment to diversity has once again been called into question.

Amid BAME under-representation at board and management level within the FA, many critics will see Clarke’s comments as evidence of the attitudes and language that has prevented the organisation from overseeing the progress hoped for in recent years, and he could now face calls to step down.

Despite having barely been seen since the start of the year, Clarke was already under pressure over his role initiating secret talks over the Project Big Picture plans for a radical overhaul of the English game. Indeed earlier in the committee hearing, he was asked if his authority was “shot”, something he strongly denied.

But then came his comments on diversity and use of language that Kick it Out said should “remain consigned to the dustbin of history”.

Amid an unprecedented financial crisis for the sport and damaging divisions with fans, leagues and government, the FA chairman is now embroiled in another controversy. This is another grim day for his leadership, and for the game, at the worst possible moment.”

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