When Greg Clarke – now former FA Chairman – 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.
Mr. Clarke found himself having to hand in his resignation to the FA after using the term “coloured” to describe black, Asian and minority ethnic people when talking about the racist abuse of players by trolls on social media to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee via video link.
He suggested that “different career interests” led south Asian people to choose careers in IT over sport. He also described a gay player coming out as a ‘life choice’ and recounted an anecdote about female footballers being afraid to be hit by a ball.
When you examine the bigger picture of this event, you see a 60-year-old, white man who has developed a career working in the private sector, building his success monetising goods and services while sitting on the boards of companies of Lend Lease and Cable & Wireless and Bupa. Being asked a question around a sensitive and current issue in relation to a major public 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, let alone tackle these issues. Highlighting once again how the FA’s current approach is embarrassing, out-dated, not-fit for purpose for a national game that means so much to so many people.
When looking at Clarke’s defence, there is the argument that this was just simply a clumsy use of language, commonly used in different era. Furthermore, when looking at Clarke’s broader point about those in the footballing community facing abuse from online trolls, he was expressing a high level of understanding and progressive thinking.
This is simply not good enough, especially when coming from someone who is in Mr. Clarke’s position of leadership. Where phrases like this highlight the deeper, structural issues that football has with homophobia, racism and sexism.
If Clarke is not 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.
However, while this week has been another dark one in the long history of the English Football Association. It does provide an opportunity for change, starting with the appointment of Clarke’s successor.
Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings spoke earlier this week about how the FA can take ‘huge step’ forward by replacing Greg Clarke with black man or woman.
“Of course, it would be a huge step,” he said. “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 long longer than myself.Embed from Getty Images
While the appointment of a black FA chairman is not simply the solution to football representation issues. It does offer an opportunity for the game to break out of its self-destructive circuit of taking another elderly white male from the executive production line who, while having leadership experience, provides no change from the norm.
A norm that has meant that there are currently no openly gay male footballers in England’s top four divisions, while only 5% of its leadership roles and 13% of its coaching staff roles are 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 who brings different experiences to that of somebody like Clarke. Then 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 pointed out 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 will not decide whether English football successfully tackles the issues of representation within the sport. But it can certainly be a catalyst for the change in the decision-making departments that the game has been crying out for.
With the Premier League requiring a new executive director and the PFA appointing a new chief executive soon, the FA now holds the 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.