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Sanjay Bhandari offers FA help in finding right candidate to be new chair

Kick It Out Press Conference – Pinsent Masons
(Image credit: Bradley Collyer)

Kick It Out’s executive chair Sanjay Bhandari has ruled himself out of the running to succeed Greg Clarke as Football Association chairman, but is happy to assist the governing body in finding the right candidate.

Clarke resigned on Tuesday evening after making a series of offensive remarks during an evidence session with MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, including using the word “coloured”.

Bhandari, who was heavily critical of Clarke’s comments, has made an impressive start to his tenure with the anti-discrimination group but does not believe he is the right person for the FA vacancy.

“I don’t think the FA are going to ask me about the role,” he told the PA news agency.

“I’m still relatively new to football, it’s way too early for someone like me.

“But I am really happy to offer any help they need in identifying the next candidate.

“It’s important we have a good relationship with the leadership of the FA and I have really good relationships with the chief executive (Mark Bullingham) and lots of other people at the FA, but I don’t think they will be knocking on my door.”

Bhandari was asked about the attributes the ideal candidate would need.

“On equality, diversity and inclusion there’s a big role, not because of what Greg said yesterday but because they have made it a tentpole of their strategy,” he said.

“This is part of who they are and what they want to be. Someone has to get that and be able to drive that across the game and also internally within the FA.

“It has to be someone who understands that intrinsically, they need that genuine empathy which I think is what was missing yesterday.

“They would also have to be pretty good at governance. The board is not very representative of the game – there is no representation from black players who make up such a significant constituency within the game.

That needs to be dealt with. The governance structure of the FA as a whole is a tough nut to crack, it’s the archetypal archaic old men in blazers. I know previous chairmen have tried that.”

He added: “They would also need to have the networks to be creative and broker agreements between the Premier League, the EFL and the Government on the future financial structure of the game.

“And on the opportunities side, there’s hopefully a World Cup bid coming (for 2030) so someone needs to have those relationships across international football to put our best foot forward.”

Last month the FA launched its Football Leadership Diversity Code, which encourages clubs to sign up to diversity targets in leadership positions.

Bhandari said Clarke’s comments were a “setback” to that work, but added: “The FA did an incredible job to get 40 clubs signed up to a pledge, they did an amazing job.

“Comments like this from the leader are a step backwards but I don’t think it will long term be fatal to that, particularly as they acted so quickly.”

The FA has appointed the chair of its professional game board, Peter McCormick, as interim chairman in place of Clarke, who apologised for using the word “coloured” but also made comments which caused offence about sexuality, South Asians and in women’s football.

Clarke is also a vice-president of FIFA and sits on its ruling council. The world governing body has yet to comment on what happens next, but England could lose a position of real influence within the top level of international football at a time when it is considering a World Cup bid.

Former Manchester United forward Andy Cole admitted he had to “shake his head” when he heard what Clarke had said.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Cole said: “He was in a position to know that the word ‘coloured’ is not a word to be used, and he has lost his job now due to that.

“But we keep talking about diversity, now hopefully we will continue to progress and keep moving forward and doing the right things.

“I just shake my head and I just laugh, because him being in that position he’s supposed to be better – he’s fighting the cause for diversity.”

In 2017, former England forward Lianne Sanderson gave evidence alongside Eniola Aluko at a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of racism within the game during which Clarke was criticised for describing the accusations as “fluff”.

Eniola Aluko gives evidence to MPs in 2017

Eniola Aluko gives evidence to MPs in 2017 (PA)

Sanderson believes Tuesday’s developments show how much work there is still to be done on the drive for equality.

“I often question how these people get into these positions in the first place, and then we wonder why racism and homophobia is on the rise,” Sanderson told Sky Sports News.

In announcing Clarke’s departure, the FA said: “We would also like to reaffirm that as an organisation, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to promote diversity, address inequality, and tackle all forms of discrimination in the game.”