Earlier this week, Greg Clarke was forced to resign as Chairman of the FA over unacceptable comments against minority players. He has since resigned his position as FIFA Vice President. Bizarrely, a series of offensive comments, at one point Clarke referred to black players as “coloured footballers”, was made during what should have been an informed contribution to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, regarding the racist abuse of players online.
Initially, Clarke attempted to justify his words, saying he was “a product of having worked overseas, in the US for many years, where I was required to use the term ‘people of colour’ because that was a product of their diversity legislature”. Unfortunately, this was not his only transgression. Within a short space of time, Clarke managed to make regressive comments against gay and female footballers as well as South Asian people.
There are several issues here. That the language and ideas behind these comments are prejudiced is clear. But the terminology itself is widely-accepted as outdated. As a result, Clarke appeared uninformed and uneducated, not a good look for the head of such a high-profile organisation. Perhaps he was not paying due attention, or maybe he did not sufficiently care around issues of inclusion. Whatever the reason, it highlighted the lack of education at the very top of the game, and of course, the urgent need for diverse talent.
To put into some context, a third of professional players in the men's game are from black and Asian backgrounds, contributing significantly to revenues. Yet English football at the highest level is still controlled by white men. Of the 10 board members (before Clarke’s departure), there are no black members and just one representative from a minority background, in Rupinder Bains.
Female representation at the top is marginally better, although until 2017 Dame Heather Rabbatts was the only women sitting. Unfortunately it is a fact, that the English Women’s league enjoys nowhere near the profile of the Men's game.
In a BBC interview earlier this week, Ballon d’Or Feminin and Best FIFA Women’s Player 2019, Megan Rapinoe, singled out Manchester United, the third biggest club by revenue in the World, for only launching its Women’s team in 2018. “It’s 2020. How long has the Premier League been around? And we are only just seeing a club like Manchester United put effort and pounds towards a women’s team? Frankly, it’s disgraceful”.
Similarly, this year Liverpool were relegated from the FA Women’s National League. Compare this with the recent successes of the Men’s team and one can’t help but feel that the Women’s game is an after-thought for Premier League’s big hitters.
Finally, there was the shocking news earlier this week that the FA had made the inexplicable decision to suspend elite girls’ football during this lockdown, whilst the boys' academy will remain open. For a sporting community that’s already on the wrong end of a profound gender pay gap, this is just another kick in the teeth.
All in all, it has been another depressing week for the Beautiful Game and unless problems at the top are urgently addressed, its leaders are storing up real issues for future generations.
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