Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has apologised after using the word “coloured” in an answer he gave to MPs at a committee hearing on Tuesday.
Clarke was answering a question around the difficulty of homosexual players in the men’s game coming out because of social media backlash.
Clarke had said: “If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, to high-profile coloured footballers, and the abuse they take on social media….social media is a free-for-all.
“People can see if you’re black and if they don’t like black people, because they’re filthy racists, they will abuse you anonymously online.
“They can see if you’re a woman, some of the high-profile black, female footballers take terrible abuse, absolutely vile abuse.
“I haven’t talked directly to gay footballers because I haven’t been able to find any who would meet me but I talk to other people around the game and they say ‘why would you voluntarily sign up for that abuse?’”
When Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee member Kevin Brennan pointed out the word he had used and asked Clarke if he would like to withdraw it, Clarke said: “If I said it I deeply apologise.
“I am a product of working overseas, where I was required to use the phrase people of colour. Sometimes I trip over my words.”
The FA later tweeted to say: “Greg Clarke is deeply apologetic for the language he used to reference members of the ethnic minority community during the select committee hearing today.
“He acknowledged that using the term ‘coloured’ is not appropriate and wholeheartedly apologised during the hearing.”
DCMS select committee chair Julian Knight MP wrote on Twitter: “It’s right that Greg Clarke apologised before the Committee, however, this isn’t the first time that the @FA has come to grief over these issues. It makes us question their commitment to diversity.”
It was a sentiment echoed by former Premier League defender Anton Ferdinand, who wrote: “I appreciate that the @FA are doing some good work with their diversity campaign but it’s important the chairman Greg Clarke knows using the term “coloured footballers” to reference people of ethnicity is unacceptable!!!! Clearly education is needed at all levels.”
Clarke was asked about what the FA was doing to improve diversity within the governing body.
“I was talking to the chair of a county FA from the west country. He has tried to now make sure he has representation within diverse communities,” Clarke said.
“(He told me) ‘I’m over-committed with South Asians, I’m not getting enough people from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds’.
“The BAME communities aren’t an amorphous mass. If you look at top-level football, the Afro-Caribbean community is over-represented versus the South Asian community.
“If you go to the IT department at the FA, there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests.”
Clarke’s comment about sexuality being a “life choice” came as he talked about the environment for a player coming out.
“The real issue is once you run out in front of 60,000 people and you decided on Monday that you wanted to disclose your sexuality – and I would never pressure anybody to disclose their sexuality – what I would want to do is to know that anybody who runs out onto the pitch and says, ‘I’m gay. I’m proud of it and I’m happy. It’s a life choice, and I’ve made it because my life is a better place’, I’d like to believe and I do believe they would have the support of their mates in the changing room,” Clarke said.
“I believe we have things in place so that anybody who misbehaves in terms of homophobic or misogynistic or racist abuse, we will find them and we will ban them from football, we have the power.”
Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out executive chair, responding to Clarke’s comments, said: “I was extremely disappointed to see Greg Clarke’s comments today in the DCMS Select Committee. 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.
“Being gay is not a ‘life choice’ as he claimed too. The casual sexism of saying ‘girls’ do not like balls hit at them hard, is staggering from anyone, let alone the leader of our national game. It is completely unacceptable.
“I was particularly concerned by the use of lazy racist stereotypes about South Asians and their supposed career preferences. It reflects similar lazy stereotypes I have heard has been spouted at club academy level.
“That kind of attitude may well partially explain why South Asians are statistically the most under-represented ethnic minority on the pitch.
“Football needs to step up and address this lack of representation of South Asians on the pitch – there has been virtually no progress in 40 years. My experience as a South Asian is that we do not have different career aspirations, but we have different outcomes. Talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. The football bodies need to focus on spreading that opportunity evenly and removing the kind of systemic bias that these lazy stereotypes reflect.
“I have seen the good work that the FA have been doing to create a more inclusive game, not least in the Diversity in Football Leadership Code. The FA has rightly been applauded for leading that effort. But 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.”