Football Association chairman Greg Clarke apologised on Tuesday for using a racist phrase at a parliamentary committee hearing about the future of English football.
Clarke was appearing at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) gathering to discuss the lack of progress in conversations between the Premier League, English Football League and the FA aimed at agreeing a financial package to help all 92 clubs survive the ongoing revenue drop caused by COVID-19.
However, MPs used the opportunity to tackle a series of wider issues including the lack of minority ethnic representation in boardrooms and insufficient funding for women’s and grassroots football.
Asked why there isn’t an openly gay men’s footballer at elite level in England, Clarke said: “The answer is I don’t know, right, because I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people from the LGBT community. I’ve talked to LGBT athletes from other sports who have come out.
“The views I’ve heard is, if I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, high-profile coloured footballers and the abuse they take on social media.
“Not from the crowds because you get this behaviour in crowds but largely people have bought a season ticket and they are going to behave because they will be banned for life if they give racist or homophobic abuse.
“But social media is a free-for-all. People can see if you are Black and if they don’t like Black people because they are filthy racists, right, they will abuse you anonymously online. They can see if you are a woman.
“Some of the high-profile, Black female footballers take terrible abuse. I’ve talked to them. Absolutely vile abuse. I haven’t talked directly to gay footballers because I haven’t been able to find any who will meet me. But when I talk to other people around the game, gay sportspeople, why would you voluntarily sign up for that abuse?
“As soon as you put your hand up, the dark corners of social media will come after you and we need the government to help us regulate social media so that racists, homophobes and misogynists can’t take aim at anybody who dares to say anything they disagree with. We need help in that area.”
Clarke then proceeded to answer a further question before the DCMS committee chairman Julian Knight interrupted to bring in another member, Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan.
“Mr Clarke, diversity is not really the issue is it — football is diverse — it’s inclusion that’s the issue,” began Brennan.
“When you said something earlier on, I think I heard you refer to ‘coloured people’ — if that’s the case would you want to withdraw that language? Because isn’t that exactly the sort of language that means that inclusion is not a reality even though football is very diverse and has many people in it from ethnic minority backgrounds and also people who are gay.”
Clarke responded: “One, if I said it, I deeply apologise for it. Secondly I am a product of having worked overseas. I worked in the U.S. for many years where I was required to use the term ‘people of colour’ because that was the product of their diversity legislation and positive discrimination format. Sometimes I trip over my words and I deeply apologise.”
Clarke had outlined at length how the FA were tackling issues of diversity and inclusion in English football and recognised the importance of the problems in lengthy, detailed answers.
But his evidence was littered with further clumsy language, stereotyping Asian people while also claiming a coach told him that young girls do not like the ball being kicked at them.
“If you go to the IT department at the FA there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro Caribbeans,” he said during one answer. “They have different career interests.”
The FA released a statement shortly after the hearing concluded which read: “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.”