The FA chairman, Greg Clarke, has been forced to apologise after using the phrase “coloured footballers” in an address to MPs.
Clarke was speaking at a DCMS select committee hearing, set up to discuss the current crisis of funding and governance within football.
Asked by the Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones about the absence of prominent gay footballers within the game, Clarke suggested that a concern about online abuse could prevent someone from coming out.
Clarke said: “If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, high-profile coloured footballers and the abuse they take on social media … they take absolutely terrible abuse. Why would you voluntarily sign up for that kind of abuse. As soon as you put your hand up the dark corners of social media come for you.”
Clarke was later asked to retract his remarks by the committee member Kevin Brennan and did so, saying: “If I said it I deeply apologise for it.”
An FA spokesperson subsequently issued an expanded statement. “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.”
Davies-Jones described Clarke’s remark as “abhorrent”. Posting on Twitter, she said: “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.”
In other remarks, over the challenges faced with making football more inclusive, Clarke said that South Asians and Afro-Caribbean people have “different career interests” and pointed to the FA’s IT department as evidence. “BAME communities are not an amorphous mass,” he said. “If you look at top level football the Afro-Caribbean community is overrepresented compared to the south asian community. 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.
“So what we have to do is treat each individual on their merits, but make sure we are inclusive and have programmes that don’t cross the line into positive discrimination but encourage those communities to participate.”
The chair of the DCMS select committee, Conservative MP Julian Knight, said that Clarke was “right” to apologise. “However, this isn’t the first time that the FA has come to grief over these issues,” he wrote on Twitter. “It makes us question their commitment to diversity.”
In a previous session of the DCMS committee in 2017, when Clarke had been summoned to discuss racial discrimination in football, he described accusations of institutional racism at the FA as “fluff”.