The Football Association (FA) is in a shambles. It is now clear for everyone to see that the FA’s problems lay far deeper than the abject displays of their teams on the pitch.
There have been months of rumours of ineffectiveness bubbling under the surface since the House of Commons passed a vote of no confidence in the organisation in February. Yet this week, the true extent of the problems erupted into broad daylight as the organisation’s bosses faced questions from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee.
On Wednesday, four FA executives were questioned on their roles in the inquiries into claims that the then women’s team manager, Mark Sampson, made racist remarks to Chelsea striker, Eniola Aluko, and midfielder, Drew Spence.
The allegations against Sampson stem from claims that he told Aluko, who is of Nigerian descent, to make sure that her family did not bring Ebola to Wembley when they came to watch her, while in a separate incident he asked how many times Spence had been arrested. On top of this, it was also revealed in Wednesday’s hearing that goalkeeping coach Lee Kendall used to speak to Aluko in a Caribbean accent.
The committee not only concluded that Sampson was guilty of racist remarks but opened a whole host of other questions about the processes and people that run the organisation. The fact that these kind of racist comments were being made within the FA is shocking enough, but more alarming for the organisation is the fact that it has taken three inquiries to confirm the allegations. Those in the hot seat for the grilling were chairman Greg Clarke, chief executive Martin Glenn, technical director Dan Ashworth and head of human resources Rachel Brace. All four were put in front of the MPs and all four came out with their reputation damaged as their errors in the affair were highlighted.
The problems started with Ashworth and Brace, who led and oversaw the initial, internal inquiry into Aluko’s claims. This inquiry had several faults. The first was a failure to interview Spence, who initially kept quiet about comments made against her because they occurred on her first call-up and she did not want to make a fuss. It also failed to obtain statements from any other eye witnesses of Sampson’s alleged remarks. To complete the comedy of errors, Ashworth himself gave a character reference for Sampson. The revelation that neither Brace or Ashworth saw this as a conflict of interest brings into question their competency in performing such a role.
This is a second mark against Ashworth who also failed to look into Sampson’s misconduct in sexual relationships during his time as manager of Bristol Academy, which led to Sampson’s recent sacking, before appointing him. Brace must also face questions over her job due to the lack of HR help that Aluko and Spence have received in the time since Aluko made her first complaint in 2016. This includes Aluko’s subsequent dropping soon afterwards; although the FA is adamant that Sampson did not know of the complaint and made the decision based on footballing reasons.
This leads onto questions about the roles of the two more powerful men in the affair, Clarke and Glenn. Glenn probably suffered the most harm to his reputation on Wednesday amid claims that he blackmailed Aluko. This comes from him withholding half of a £80,000 payment until she stated publicly that the FA was not institutionally racist. He denied such allegations but, along with Clarke, refused to admit that they had failed Aluko in their dealings with the case. This showed a bizarre lack of humility which furthers supports the argument that the FA is too stuck up to acknowledge its own faults and need to reform.
Clarke then labelled claims of institutional racism as “fluff” in a contemptuous manner. This did little to suggest that he would have dealt with Aluko’s complaints in any way other than “disrespectfully dismissing” them, as she claimed. Both men were unconvincing in their displays and with the DCMS committee chairman, Damian Collins, suggesting that Clarke should resign, there should be discussions about whether their positions, along with those of Ashworth and Brace, have become untenable.
Perhaps more important, however, is the need to look at the FA as a whole. It has been a disastrous year for the FA. First, there was the government’s vote of no confidence in February, which focused on the need to reform its board to fit the new code for sport’s governing bodies, increasing numbers of independent directors, women and ethnic minorities. There has also been the sex abuse scandal in which over 1,000 people have made allegations against more than 200 suspects and, although many of these are historic cases, it is indicative of a dysfunctional organisation that they have not been dealt with earlier. As well as this there have been the sackings of Sam Allardyce and Sampson, both for non-footballing reasons, which must call into question the process involved in appointing managers.
Now is the time for the FA to act. It must reform completely following this inquiry to make sure that incidents like this do not happen again. Player welfare and support must be improved so there is a route of complaint for players like Aluko and Spence, as well as those at lower levels, if they feel they have been abused. Glenn, Ashworth, Clarke and Brace do not have to be sacked, but the investigation must continue into how they let this situation get so out of hand instead of dealing with it swiftly and effectively. From the ashes of this disaster they must recreate an organisation fit to govern in the modern day.
Image courtesy of Matt Churchill