FA chairman Greg Clarke quits after using 'abhorrent' racist term

10 November 2020, 17:23 | Updated: 10 November 2020, 23:10

Greg Clarke has resigned as FA chairman
Greg Clarke has resigned as FA chairman. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Greg Clarke has resigned as FA chairman and faced a wave of criticism following a disastrous appearance in front of MPs in which he used a racist term and insinuated that being gay was a "life choice".

His controversial comments, before a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, were branded "harmful", "archaic" and "deeply offensive".

Former England striker Stan Collymore said Clarke was “flat out racial profiling”, while MP Alex Davies-Jones, a member of the DCMS select committee, called the language “absolutely abhorrent”.

Clarke was earlier forced to apologise after using the term "coloured footballers" and making a series of other offensive statements when speaking before the committee.

In a statement, Mr Clarke said: "As a person who loves football and has given decades of service to our game, it is right that I put the interests of football first.

"2020 has been a challenging year and I have been actively considering standing down for some time to make way for a new Chair now our CEO transition is complete and excellent executive leadership under Mark Bullingham is established."

"My unacceptable words in front of Parliament were a disservice to our game and to those who watch, play, referee and administer it. This has crystallised my resolve to move on.

"I am deeply saddened that I have offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include.

"I would like to thank my friends and colleagues in the game for the wisdom and counsel they have shared over the years and resign from the FA with immediate effect."

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Greg Clarke and Martin Edwards during the FIFA World Cup 2018
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Greg Clarke and Martin Edwards during the FIFA World Cup 2018. Picture: PA

CLARKE ON RACE

Clarke used the term "coloured" when talking about the social media backlash a player may face if they were to come out as gay.

"If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, to high-profile coloured footballers, and the abuse they take on social media... social media is a free-for-all."

"People can see if you're black and if they don't like black people, because they're filthy racists, they will abuse you anonymously online.

"They can see if you're a woman, some of the high-profile black, female footballers take terrible abuse, absolutely vile abuse.

"I haven't talked directly to gay footballers because I haven't been able to find any who would meet me but I talk to other people around the game and they say 'why would you voluntarily sign up for that abuse?"

When asked by committee MP Kevin Brennan if he wished to withdraw the remark, Clarke said: "If I said it, I deeply apologise. Second, I am a product of working overseas, I worked in the USA for many years where I was required to use the term 'people of colour' - that was the product of their diversity legislation. Sometimes I trip over my words."

Clarke's comments regarding career preferences of different ethnic minorities came up in an answer on the diversity of the FA, and the county FAs.

"The BAME communities aren't an amorphous mass. If you look at top-level football, the Afro-Caribbean community is over-represented versus the South Asian community.

"If you go to the IT department at the FA, there are a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests."

CLARKE ON SEXUALITY

It was in the same section that the "life choice" phrase was used.

"The real issue is once you run out in front of 60,000 people and you decided on Monday that you wanted to disclose your sexuality - and I would never pressure anybody to disclose their sexuality - what I would want to do is to know that anybody who runs out onto the pitch had, and says, 'I'm gay. I'm proud of it and I'm happy. It's a life choice, and I've made it because my life is a better place'. I'd like to believe and I do believe they would have the support of their mates in the changing room," he said.

"I believe we have things in place so that anybody who misbehaves in terms of homophobic or misogynistic or racist abuse, we will find them and we will ban them from football, we have the power."

CLARKE ON WOMEN

Clarke was also criticised over his remarks regarding girls' football.

"I talked to a coach - and I'm not certain this is true - and said 'what's the issue with goalkeepers in the women's game?'

"She said 'young girls, when they take up the game (aged) six, seven, eight, just don't like having the ball kicked at them hard', right?

"They prefer to kick it than have it kicked at them. We have to understand we need to look at different ways to bring women into the goalkeeper's position."

Responding, the Women in Football group said in a statement that the "outdated use of stereotypes was unacceptable" and did not "reflect the football that we know and love, and it actively excludes people by seeking to generalise their unique experiences with a guess at what 'people who look like them' feel, experience and desire."

The FA later tweeted to say: "Greg Clarke is deeply apologetic for the language he used to reference members of the ethnic minority community during the select committee hearing today.

"He acknowledged that using the term 'coloured' is not appropriate and wholeheartedly apologised during the hearing."

Clarke's remarks came just two weeks after the FA launched a new diversity code, which aims to ensure more candidates from ethnic minorities can land top jobs.

The FA added: "We would also like to reaffirm that as an organisation, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to promote diversity, address inequality, and tackle all forms of discrimination in the game."

His comments have also been criticised by footballers, politicians and charities alike.

Former Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor tweeted: "So the fa chairman now calls us coloured footballers. How will racism end with people like him at the top".

The former chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins MP, tweeted: "Greg Clarke's departure as FA Chairman should be a moment for fundamental reform of the governance of football in England.

"We need a body that shows real leadership on player development and welfare, fan engagement, inclusion, & financial sustainability."

Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari felt Clarke's comments had been "staggering" and welcomed the swift action taken by the FA.

He said on Sky Sports News: "We are not just talking about anybody here, we are talking about the leader of our national game on a really major strategic issue for the FA, which is driving greater diversity and inclusion, making everyone feel they belong in the game.

"These were archaic attitudes which were really revealing themselves in comment after comment - a well-briefed chair or CEO would know exactly how to navigate that.

"It is not as if this is the first time, there have been previous incidents - like referring to institutional racism as 'fluff'.

"What it shows is there is an attitude underlying which is really not the right attitude to be leading the English game."

Bhandari added: "I welcome that it has moved so quickly, it is unusual for football, for anything in governing bodies, but I think given the strategic imperative of diversity, of making everyone feel they belong, this was the only choice, the only possible outcome."

Bhandari believes the FA must make sure the next person to step in to such a senior leadership role "really understands and gets" the issues involved.

"We have to separate the FA from Greg and his comments," Bhandari said on Sky Sports News.

"The important thing is actually finding a new leader, a new chair who represents the values of modern society, and represents the values of the FA and the people who work at the FA.

"My experience over the last year doing this role is that the people that I have worked with at the FA get it, are really engaged and working hard, we have talked about the (diversity) code which was released a couple of weeks ago.

"The most important thing is having the right leader that really understands and gets this."

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston tweeted: "Greg Clarke's comments in front of today's @CommonsDCMS SelectCommittee have caused deep offence and were completely unacceptable.

"I acknowledge his decades of service to football and his apology, but he was right to stand down as Chairman of the @FA.

"We must ensure that opportunities are open to everyone in the sports sector - from athletes to board members - & all forms of discrimination must be tackled head on.

"I will continue to work with the @FA & other bodies to ensure our national game positively leads by example."

He was also criticised by anti-discrimination group Kick It Out after saying that black and South Asian people had "different career interests" from each other, and also drew complaints for saying a women's coach had told him that the lack of women's goalkeepers was due to girls not liking the ball being kicked at them.

The purpose of the FA chief appearing before the committee had been to discuss the governance of the game, particularly related to the financial rescue package from the Premier League to the EFL and also the recent revelations of his involvement in Project Big Picture discussions.

But Clarke ended up creating a new storm for English football with a series of controversial remarks, and Kick It Out executive chair Sanjay Bhandari was scathing in his criticism.

"I was extremely disappointed to see Greg Clarke's comments today," Bhandari said in a statement.

"His use of outdated language to describe black and Asian people as 'coloured' is from decades ago and should remain consigned to the dustbin of history.

"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.

"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 has been spouted at club academy level. That kind of attitude may well partially explain why South Asians are statistically the most under-represented ethnic minority on the pitch.

"Football needs to step up and address this lack of representation of South Asians on the pitch - there has been virtually no progress in 40 years. My experience as a South Asian is that we do not have different career aspirations, but we have different outcomes. Talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not.

"The football bodies need to focus on spreading that opportunity evenly and removing the kind of systemic bias that these lazy stereotypes reflect.

"I have seen the good work that the FA have been doing to create a more inclusive game, not least in the Diversity in Football Leadership Code. The FA has rightly been applauded for leading that effort.

"But these comments indicate that more still needs to be done to challenge attitudes. For all the steps made forward recently, the comments expressed today are a big step backwards."

Equality campaigners Stonewall UK said: "The language we use matters, which is why it's a shame Greg Clarke used such a harmful phrase like 'life choice' to describe being gay.

"It was also deeply upsetting to hear the archaic words and stereotypes he used to describe Black and Asian people, along with sexist stereotypes about players from the women's game.

"We hope Greg Clarke and the FA will swiftly apologise for his comments - like they did for the words he used to refer to Black and Asian players today."

Football v Homophobia said: "The idea that being gay is a life choice is an outdated concept that many people will find deeply offensive.

"There are some people who will use a statement like this from the FA chairman as a way to prop up their homophobia."

Peter McCormick will step into the role as interim FA chairman with immediate effect, the governing body said.