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Greg Clarke’s outdated comments contrast with positive steps in FA’s New Diversity Code

17 November 2020

You won’t have missed the news last week that Greg Clarke has resigned from his dual-roles as FA Chairman and FIFA Vice-President, following his use of “unacceptable language” when speaking in front of Parliament.

When talking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on issues of diversity and racial abuse aimed at players, Mr Clarke used the term “coloured footballers”.  During the session, he also said that there were "a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans" in the FA's IT department because "they have different career interests”, before going on to make comments which suggested that gay players had made a “life choice”.  To add insult to injury, Clarke proceeded to recount how a professional coach had recently explained to him that the lack of goalkeepers in the women's game was due to the fact that young girls "‘just don't like having the ball kicked at them hard', right?

Mr Clarke apologised for his use of language during the session, but ultimately was left with no choice but to resign from his duties after its conclusion.  In a statement following his resignation, he acknowledged his use of unacceptable language which had done a disservice to the sport, and said that he was deeply saddened that he had offended those diverse communities in football.

His performance in front of the DCMS has, expectedly, been met with widespread condemnation from the wider footballing community. Whilst Mr Clarke’s swift resignation goes to show that this type of language will not be tolerated from those trusted with positions of governance, it’s important to consider that football as a sport faces an ongoing challenge to root out issues of racism, sexism and homophobia that still exist within the modern game. Many people work tirelessly to tackle these issues head-on by promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels of football in this country, but comments like these (from the chairman of England’s sporting oversight body) directly undermine those efforts.

The timing of this incident is unfortunate for the FA, particularly as it threatens to overshadow the positive steps made to promote diversity within football through other ventures – including via the recently published Football Leadership Diversity Code.

The Diversity Code

On 27 October 2020, the FA launched a new Football Leadership Diversity Code (the Code), which aims to promote inclusion within English football.  The Code is voluntary.  Clubs that elect to sign up commit to the Principles of the Code which include championing diversity across both ethnicity and gender and reflecting diversity in appointments to the Club’s coaching staff and senior leadership teams.  To help deliver on these principles, signatories pledge to apply the following diversity hiring targets:

  • Senior Leadership and Team Operations: 15% of new hires will be Black, Asian or of Mixed-Heritage (or a target set by the Club based on local demographics); and 30% of new hires will be female.
  • Coaching – Men’s Clubs:  25% of new hires, and 10% of new senior coaching hires, will be Black, Asian or of Mixed-Heritage
  • Coaching – Women’s Clubs:  50% of new hires will be female; and 15 % of new hires will be Black, Asian or of Mixed-Heritage.

For each relevant role, Clubs should also shortlist at least one male and one female Black, Asian or of Mixed-Heritage candidate (if applicants meeting the job specifications apply).  

In advance of the 2021/22 season, Clubs will need to create and publish an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) plan which will set out how they will meet the targets and the principles of the Code.  They must also publish an annual review by the end of June each year which will report on their progress and explain if they have not been able to achieve any of their targets.

Encouragingly, more than 40 Clubs have already signed up to the Code, including an overwhelming majority of Clubs in the Premier League.  Although the Code represents a step in the right direction, the FA has acknowledged that the Code is only a starting point towards greater diversity – a point which has been drawn into sharp focus following Mr Clarke’s recent remarks. 

How we can help

We know that many of our clients want to do the right thing but are concerned about inadvertently using inappropriate language, or are unsure of how to implement positive changes in an appropriate way.  Lewis Silkin offers a range of services to help sports organisations promote diversity and to speak about these topics confidently in the right way.  We provide relevant training courses, including Diversity & Inclusion training and Unconscious Bias training.   We also conduct quick and comprehensive external investigations into allegations of discrimination.  Appointing external investigators shows that allegations are being taken seriously, and a thorough investigation will enable organisations to identify and address any problems which might otherwise undermine their commitment to promoting diversity.  Details of our Sports integrity and conduct: investigations and training offerings can be found here.


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