LONDON • By the time Football Association (FA) chairman Greg Clarke apologised for referring to black players as “coloured”, it was too late.
He had already scored a verbal own goal by telling the British parliamentary committee on sports on Tuesday how South Asians filling up the information technology department of the English FA qualified as a diversity problem.
But even that was only one part of a disastrous day of fumbling testimony in which he also called being gay a “life choice” and explained away a lack of female goalkeepers in a sexist manner by saying he had been told girls “don’t like the ball kicked at them hard”.
MP Kevin Brennan, a member of the committee on sports, subsequently asked Clarke if he would like to withdraw the use of the term “coloured people”, which he had used when discussing representation in football.
“If I said it, I deeply apologise for it,” Clarke, 63, said, before bizarrely explaining that he had done so because he had worked for many years in the United States where “I was required to use the term, ‘People of colour’.”
“Sometimes, I trip over my words, and I apologise,” he added.
Before the hearing had ended, a chorus of shock, anger and frustration on social media over Clarke’s testimony had grown to include anti-discrimination campaigners like Kick It Out and Women in Football and prominent pundits.
MP Alex Davies-Jones labelled his comments “abhorrent”, while the condemnation was just as swift from the football community for using “lazy, racist stereotypes”.
Former England striker Stan Collymore said Clarke was “flat-out racial profiling”, while former Tottenham forward Darren Bent described the language used as “awful, just awful”.
Sanjay Bhandari, the executive chair of anti-discrimination group Kick It Out, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Clarke’s comments during his House of Commons appearance via video link.
“His use of outdated language to describe black and Asian people as ‘coloured’ is from decades ago and should remain consigned to the dustbin of history,” he said.
“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. Being gay is not a ‘life choice’ as he claimed.”
The answer is I don’t know, right, because I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. I’ve talked to LGBT athletes from other sports who have come out. The views I’ve heard is if I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, high-profile coloured footballers and the abuse they take on social media.
Within hours, Clarke’s words had cost him his job. In a statement announcing his resignation later in the day, he said he had been thinking about leaving his post even before his inflammatory comments.
“My unacceptable words in front of Parliament were a disservice to our game and to those who watch, play, referee and administer it,” he said in comments published on the FA’s website.
“This has crystallised my resolve to move on.”
He later told Sky Sports: “I’ve enjoyed my time in football and will move back into the business world, having deeply appreciated my time in football and the great people I’ve worked with.”
Clarke will also step down from his position as Fifa vice-president in February – he has opted against resigning immediately to protect Uefa’s voting rights until then.
The former Leicester chairman was appointed by the FA in 2016 in a move to improve its stuffy image and become more inclusive, but has stirred controversy even before Tuesday.
In 2017, he said at another parliamentary session that allegations of institutional racism within the governing body was “fluff”, leading to plenty of criticism even though he was not sanctioned for those remarks.
Bhandari welcomed the FA’s decisiveness following Clarke’s “staggering” comments, saying: “We’re not just talking about anybody here, we are talking about the leader of our national game on a really major strategic issue for the FA, which is driving greater diversity and inclusion, making everyone feel they belong in the game.
“These were archaic attitudes which were really revealing… It is not as if this is the first time, there have been previous incidents. What it shows is there is an attitude underlying which is really not the right attitude to be leading the English game.”
Lawyer and board member Peter McCormick will now act as interim chair as the FA begins the process to identify Clarke’s successor.
Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings believes the body would be taking a “huge step” if it ends up naming a minority candidate as his replacement, adding we still “have a very, very long way to go”.
“It would be everything that a lot of people have worked for… people more senior than myself,” he said.
“But ultimately, that isn’t what we’re asking for. We’re not necessarily asking for the next chief to be black. What we’re asking for is equal opportunities for both black and white people, or ethnic minorities.”