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FA chairman Greg Clarke apologises for saying ‘coloured’ in answer to MPs

Greg Clarke
(Image credit: Tim Goode)

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke talked his way into controversy on Tuesday with a range of comments which drew accusations of stereotyping.

Clarke was forced to apologise after he used the word “coloured” before a Digital, Culture, Media, Sport committee.

He was also criticised by anti-discrimination group Kick It Out after saying that black and South Asian people had “different career interests” from each other, and also drew complaints for saying a women’s coach had told him that the lack of women’s goalkeepers was due to girls not liking the ball being kicked at them.

The purpose of the FA chief appearing before the committee had been to discuss the governance of the game, particularly related to the financial rescue package from the Premier League to the EFL and also the recent revelations of his involvement in Project Big Picture discussions.

But Clarke ended up creating a new storm for English football with a series of controversial remarks, and Kick It Out executive chair Sanjay Bhandari was scathing in his criticism.

“I was extremely disappointed to see Greg Clarke’s comments today,” Bhandari said in a statement.

“His use of outdated language to describe black and Asian people as ‘coloured’ is from decades ago and should remain consigned to the dustbin of history.

“Being gay is not a ‘life choice’ as he claimed too. The casual sexism of saying ‘girls’ do not like balls hit at them hard, is staggering from anyone, let alone the leader of our national game. It is completely unacceptable.

“I was particularly concerned by the use of lazy racist stereotypes about South Asians and their supposed career preferences.

“It reflects similar lazy stereotypes I have heard has been spouted at club academy level. That kind of attitude may well partially explain why South Asians are statistically the most under-represented ethnic minority on the pitch.

“Football needs to step up and address this lack of representation of South Asians on the pitch – there has been virtually no progress in 40 years. My experience as a South Asian is that we do not have different career aspirations, but we have different outcomes. Talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not.

“The football bodies need to focus on spreading that opportunity evenly and removing the kind of systemic bias that these lazy stereotypes reflect.

“I have seen the good work that the FA have been doing to create a more inclusive game, not least in the Diversity in Football Leadership Code. The FA has rightly been applauded for leading that effort.

“But these comments indicate that more still needs to be done to challenge attitudes. For all the steps made forward recently, the comments expressed today are a big step backwards.”

The FA later tweeted to say: “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.”

Former Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor tweeted: “So the fa chairman now calls us coloured footballers. How will racism end with people like him at the top”.

Clarke used the term “coloured” when talking about the social media backlash a player may face if they were to come out as gay.

“If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, to high-profile coloured footballers, and the abuse they take on social media… social media is a free-for-all,” he said.

“People can see if you’re black and if they don’t like black people, because they’re filthy racists, they will abuse you anonymously online.

“They can see if you’re a woman, some of the high-profile black, female footballers take terrible abuse, absolutely vile abuse.

“I haven’t talked directly to gay footballers because I haven’t been able to find any who would meet me but I talk to other people around the game and they say ‘why would you voluntarily sign up for that abuse?”

When asked by committee MP Kevin Brennan if he wished to withdraw the remark, Clarke said: “If I said it, I deeply apologise. Second, I am a product of working overseas, I worked in the USA for many years where I was required to use the term ‘people of colour’ – that was the product of their diversity legislation. Sometimes I trip over my words.”

It was in the same section that the “life choice” phrase was used.

“The real issue is once you run out in front of 60,000 people and you decided on Monday that you wanted to disclose your sexuality – and I would never pressure anybody to disclose their sexuality – what I would want to do is to know that anybody who runs out onto the pitch had, and says, ‘I’m gay. I’m proud of it and I’m happy. It’s a life choice, and I’ve made it because my life is a better place’. I’d like to believe and I do believe they would have the support of their mates in the changing room.

“I believe we have things in place so that anybody who misbehaves in terms of homophobic or misogynistic or racist abuse, we will find them and we will ban them from football, we have the power.”

Clarke’s comments regarding career preferences of different ethnic minorities came up in an answer on the diversity of the FA, and the county FAs.

“The BAME communities aren’t an amorphous mass. 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 are a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests.”

Clarke was also criticised over his remarks regarding girls’ football.

“I talked to a coach – and I’m not certain this is true – and said ‘what’s the issue with goalkeepers in the women’s game?’

“She said ‘young girls, when they take up the game (aged) six, seven, eight, just don’t like having the ball kicked at them hard’, right?

“They prefer to kick it than have it kicked at them. We have to understand we need to look at different ways to bring women into the goalkeeper’s position.”

Responding, the Women in Football group said in a statement that the “outdated use of stereotypes was unacceptable” and did not “reflect the football that we know and love, and it actively excludes people by seeking to generalise their unique experiences with a guess at what ‘people who look like them’ feel, experience and desire.”

Equality campaigners Stonewall UK said: “The language we use matters, which is why it’s a shame Greg Clarke used such a harmful phrase like ‘life choice’ to describe being gay.

“It was also deeply upsetting to hear the archaic words and stereotypes he used to describe Black and Asian people, along with sexist stereotypes about players from the women’s game.

“We hope Greg Clarke and the FA will swiftly apologise for his comments – like they did for the words he used to refer to Black and Asian players today.”

Football v Homophobia said: “The idea that being gay is a life choice is an outdated concept that many people will find deeply offensive.

“There are some people who will use a statement like this from the FA chairman as a way to prop up their homophobia.”