WHEN FA chairmen Greg Clarke was asked by a government committee earlier this week to discuss the issues of inclusion within the game of football. It seemed hardly shocking to me when he delivered his response.
Clarke handed in his resignation on 10 November 2020 after he used the term “coloured” to describe black, Asian and minority ethnic people. The 63-year-old used the phrase when talking about the racist abuse players received by trolls on social media to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee about the racist abuse players received by trolls on social media.
He also suggested that “different career interests” led south Asian people to choose careers in IT over sport, described a gay player coming out as a ‘life choice’ and recounted an anecdote of female footballers being afraid of being hit by a ball.
When you examine the bigger picture of this event, it’s appalling. A wealthy white man, whose successful career in the private sector had led him to this position of power, is being asked a question in relation to a sensitive and current issue related to a major public institution. An institution that has consistently failed to raise the bar in terms of its inclusivity and representation of broader society.
Thus, what we saw from this car-crash performance was somebody in a leadership position who was not qualified, experienced, or aware enough to speak on these issues, let alone tackle them.
When looking at Clarke’s defence, there is an argument this was simply a clumsy use of language, commonly used in a different era. Furthermore, when looking at Clarke’s broader points about those in the footballing community facing abuse from online trolls, he expressed a high level of understanding and progressive thinking.
This is simply not good enough though, especially when coming from someone in Clarke’s position of leadership. Where phrases like this highlight the deeper, structural issues that football has with homophobia, racism and sexism.
If Clarke isn’t even aware what language is appropriate in 2020, then it hardly provokes a lot of confidence that he is the man meant to be leading the reform on these issues.
Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings spoke earlier this week about how the FA can take a “huge step” forward by replacing Greg Clarke with a black man or woman.
“Of course, it would be a huge step,” he said at the pre-game press conference for England’s Nations League fixture against Belgium.
“It would be everything that a lot of people have worked for, a lot of people more senior than myself, a lot of people who have been fighting for this cause for a lot longer than myself.”Embed from Getty Images
The appointment of a black FA chairman does not solve the issues of representation in football. It does, however, offer an opportunity for the governing body to break out of its self-destructive circuit. Whereby they take another elderly white male from the executive production line who, while having leadership experience, provides no change from the norm.
A norm where there are currently no openly gay male footballers in England’s top four divisions and only 5% of its leadership roles and 13% of its coaching staff roles currently filled by people from a BAME background, despite making up over a third of the current professional playing staff.
By employing somebody from a different background, you allow for new ideas to be brought to the table, facilitated by a fresh perspective that can only be brought by a different pair of eyes to that of an elderly, white man.
Another argument that is thrown at this idea is the lack of suitable candidates from the black and Asian communities. But as Leon Mann of The Guardian pointed out in an article earlier this week:
“The game needs to move away from a system that only recognises talent from a white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied perspective. When we say we want “the best” candidate, whose definition of best are we talking about?
All the academic studies on diversity tell us that we recruit in our own image. So, if the decision-makers are all white and male it is no surprise that, time and again, they opt for another version of themselves. A thorough and transparent recruitment process needs a diverse group of people involved to give all candidates a fair chance.”
Put simply, this appointment won’t decide whether English football successfully tackles the issues of representation within the sport. But it can certainly be a catalyst for change in the decision-making departments of the game.
With the Premier League requiring a new executive director and the PFA appointing a new chief executive soon, the FA now has an opportunity to lead the way in making a change for the better. To go down the same road they did with Gregg Clarke would only bring more problems than solutions.