KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The reputational crisis assailing the Football Association over the Mark Sampson and Eni Aluko storms grew ever more intense after today’s parliamentary inquiry hearing.
Most damagingly Aluko – dropped controversially from the England women’s team before the summer’s European Championship in Holland, accused the FA of behaviour “bordering on blackmail” over a financial settlement.
Hours earlier the FA’s chief executive Martin Glenn had issued a lengthy, statement of apology to Aluko and former team-mate Drew Spence after the reopened investigation into the Sampson affair concluded that the now-deposed England women’s manager did make discriminatory remarks to two of his players.
A third inquiry, conducted by the barrister Katharine Newton, found that Sampson did tell Aluko to be careful her Nigerian relatives did not bring the ebola virus to Wembley and also upset Spence, a mixed-raced player, by asking her how many times she had been arrested.
Newton’s revised findings came after taking evidence from a number of other footballers who heard the comment to Spence at the China Cup in October 2015 but, crucially, were not interviewed as part of her first investigation – or for the internal FA review that has been branded a “sham” by the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Glenn’s statement said: “On behalf of The Football Association I would like to sincerely apologise to Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence. Based on new evidence submitted to independent barrister Katharine Newton, she has now found that they were both subject to discriminatory remarks made by an FA employee. This is not acceptable.
“In her final report Katharine Newton concluded that on two separate occasions Mark Sampson made ill-judged attempts at humour, which as a matter of law were discriminatory on grounds of race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. Katharine Newton did however conclude that Mark Sampson was not racist.
“She also concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegations that Eniola Aluko was subjected to ‘a course of bullying and discriminatory conduct’ by Mark Sampson.”
If Glenn hoped that statement would draw the fire of the House of Commons’ digital, culture, media and sport committee and its chairman Damian Collins then he was to be disappointed.
The FA’s quartet of Clarke, Glenn, HR director Rachel Brace and technical drector Dan Ashworth were always on the desperate back foot after Aluko’s own evidence.
The FA had agreed an £80,000 settlement before Euro 2017, She told the inquiry she had been due to receive two payments but had not yet been given the second of those.
Aluko said she had rejected a suggestion from Glenn that she should put out a statement saying the FA was not institutionally racist to clear the way for the remaining money to be given to her, describing that as “bordering on blackmail”.
She said: “Martin Glenn said if I wrote a statement saying the FA were not institutionally racist he would release the second tranche of the money. I felt that was bordering on blackmail. I categorically refused to write it. It’s not for me to come up with that determination.
“I would never say the FA are institutionally racist. My comments were based on comments to me and Drew Spence and how they handled that. For Martin Glenn to say I should say that in order to get a payment I was contractually agreed to is appalling.”
However Glenn insisted that the second payment had been withheld on legal advice because Aluko had posted a Tweet which the FA deemed to have broken the terms of the settlement agreement.
Both Glenn and Clarke refused to say whether, in the wake of all the negative publicity, payment would now be made. Glenn said: “We’ll reflect on it.”
The FA’s employee safeguarding procedures were revealed by questioning as having been totally inadequate though Glenn, appointed in 2015, and Clarke, a year later , insisted that such procedures were now vastly improved.
Clarke’s own strategy was to ring-fence the role of chairman and distance himself from Glenn and the FA’s operational matters. He told MPs: “I’ve tried to stay within my governance box. I’m a non-executive chairman. My job is to chair the board not run the FA.”
Asked, even so, if he accepted responsibility for the failings over Sampson’s appointment, Clarke said: “I, as chairman, will accept responsibility for everything that happens during this organisation.
“I looked extensively at the forensic analysis that was done the whole time during this process. There was very little evidence of proper checking or that the safeguarding issues were escalated. There were certainly failings which contributed to today’s mess.
“The issue for me, is our current chief executive making it better? My understanding is, yes. We have not lost faith with the management team.”
MP Jo Stevens, summing up her own reaction at much of what she heard during the hearing, said: “I’ve never heard such shambolic evidence about governance.”