Football Association chairman Greg Clarke was forced to apologise for using the word “coloured” to describe south Asian and Afro-Caribbean people during a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee meeting.
Clarke was summoned before the committee to explain his role in the recently-failed Project Big Picture plans, which saw the FA chairman play an integral role in the recent proposals that were driven by Manchester United, Liverpool and English Football League chairman Rick Parry before pulling out when an apparent breakaway threat emerged.
But after being asked by Alex Davies-Jones, Labour MP for Pontypridd, about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women’s and girl’s football, Clarke drifted into a defence of the governing body’s diversity, praising the “nearly non-existent” ethnicity pay gap and explaining how they will attempt to increase the number of Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity (Bame) board members within the FA. It led to Davies-Jones asking why there are not any openly gay players in professional English football
Clarke answered: “The answer is I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people from the LGBT community, people from other sports that have come out, and the views that I’ve heard is if I look at what has happened to high-profile female footballers, high-profile coloured footballers, and the abuse they have taken on social media.”
Clarke was quickly challenged by MP Kevin Brennan on the use of the word and whether he would like to withdraw it.
“Diversity is not really the issue, is it? Football is diverse. It’s inclusion that’s the issue and 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 inclusion is not a reality even though football is very diverse and has many people in it from minority backgrounds and people who are gay.”
Clarke issued an immediate apology when challenged on his use of language, and claimed that it was due to the way he was asked to describe people from minority backgrounds while working in the United States.
“If I said it, I deeply apologise for it,” Clarke said. “I am a product of having worked overseas, I worked in the USA for many years where I was required to use the term ‘people of colour’ because that was a product of their diversity legislation and positive discirmination format.
“Sometimes I trip over my words and I apologise.”
Clarke also made ill-advised comments about the make-up of different departments within the FA, in which he referenced the “differing career interests” between people from south-Asian and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds.
“I was talking to a chair at a county FA from the West Country and he’s tried to now make sure that he has representation within diverse communities – ‘I’m overcommitted with south Asians, I’m not getting enough people from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds’ – so we have to look because the Bame communities aren’t an amorphous mass,” Clarke added.
“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’s a lot more south Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests.”
Clarke was also criticised for referring to being gay as being “a life choice” while attempting to explain his hope that any team would be inclusive should a player choose to come out.
“What I would want to do is to know that anybody who runs out onto the pitch and says on Monday, ‘I’m gay and I’m proud of it and I’m happy and it’s a life choice’…they would have the support of their mates in the changing room,” he added.
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