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Greg Clarke: Football Association chairman apologises for remark about black players



Warning: This report contains language readers may find offensive.

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has apologised for a reference to black players when talking to MPs about diversity.

Clarke said it was inappropriate for him to have used the term “coloured footballers”.

He had been talking by video link to members of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

“If I said it, I deeply apologise,” said Clarke, 63, after being prompted to say sorry by MP Kevin Brennan.

“I am a product of having worked overseas, in the USA for many years, where I was required to use the term ‘people of colour’ because that was a product of their diversity legislature. Sometimes I trip over my words.”

Brennan said it was the kind of language that did not encourage inclusion, while fellow committee member Alex Davies-Jones called it “abhorrent”.

The equality charity Kick It Out said his remark should be “consigned to the dustbin of history” and criticised further comments by Clarke concerning people from South Asia, gay players and female footballers.

An FA spokesperson said afterwards that Clarke acknowledged his language was inappropriate.

“Greg Clarke is deeply apologetic for the language he used to reference members of the ethnic minority community during the select committee hearing today,” said the spokesperson.

Clarke had been talking about racist abuse of players by trolls on social media.

“People can see if you’re black and if they don’t like black people because they are filthy racists, they can abuse you anonymously online,” he said.

He had earlier spoken of the need to attract people into the sport from a range of communities.

“If you go to the IT department of the FA, there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests,” said Clarke.

Clarke had actually been called to give evidence to the DCMS committee about the Premier League’s potential bailout of English Football League clubs and the structural reforms proposed as part of ‘Project Big Picture’.

But he prompted further criticism when referring to gay players making a “life choice” and a coach telling him young female players did not like having the ball hit hard at them.

Clarke was also criticised three years ago after an appearance before the committee when he used the term “fluff” to describe claims of institutional racism and promised “a full cultural review, top to bottom”.


Sanjay Bhandari, executive chair at Kick It Out, said Clarke’s comments were outdated.

“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 have been spouted at club academy level,” he said. 

“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.”

Darren Bent, former England striker: “Slip of the tongue was it? Awful, just awful.”

Anton Ferdinand, former West Ham, Sunderland and QPR defender: “Clearly education is needed at all levels.” 

Julian Knight, DCMS select committee chairman: “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.”

Alex Davies-Jones, committee member: “The language used by Greg Clarke in our meeting this morning was absolutely abhorrent. It speaks volumes about the urgent progress that needs to made in terms of leadership on equalities issues in sport. I can’t believe we’re still here in 2020.”