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FA urged to make fundamental changes to diversity approach

Greg Clarke File Photo
(Image credit: Nick Potts)

The Football Association has been urged to make fundamental changes in its approach to diversity issues following the resignation of Greg Clarke over “harmful, archaic” and “deeply offensive” remarks.

Former Manchester United star Andy Cole says the governing body must forget about token gestures and illustrate its commitment to making “progress” following the controversy stirred by Clarke’s comments.

The 63-year-old apologised after he used the word “coloured” to describe black players and insinuated that being gay was a “life choice”, during a video link appearance before a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Andy Cole

Andy Cole has called on the FA to illustrate progress on diversity issues (Phil Noble/PA Archive)

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Cole said: “He was in a position to know that the word ‘coloured’ is not a word to be used, and he has lost his job now due to that.

“But we keep talking about diversity, now hopefully we will continue to progress and keep moving forward and doing the right things.

“I just shake my head and I just laugh, because him being in that position he’s supposed to be better – he’s fighting the cause for diversity.

“We used to wear t-shirts once a year or whatever it was, that’s just not enough. That’s how I feel about it. When I talk about progression, it means we have to progress.”

Professional Footballers’ Association equality coach Iffy Onuora told Sky Sports News that the next appointment of FA chairman must not be an opportunity missed.

“We have to hold the FA to account and make sure that they deliver,” said the 53-year-old.

“What they set up a couple of weeks ago (new diversity code) was quite specific and it was bold, and it had to be, so I commend people like Paul Elliott at the FA and all the people working at the FA.

“But I think they will be really held to account if this is an opportunity missed now and I would hate to be having this conversation again in a few weeks’ time or a few months’ time if this is another opportunity missed.

“We’ve been in that place too many times in the past and that’s why I feel this time it is different, and I want it to be different.

SOCCER Swindon

Iffy Onuora insists the FA must be held to account (Max Nash/PA)

“We need to have some real tangible results and tangible representation otherwise the last few months of taking the knee and all those discussions have come to nothing.

“Equality is very much an issue, it’s a live issue and something we speak about a lot, those barriers and entry into these jobs.

“Some of the initiatives that have gone on before haven’t been successful. In terms of seniority and leadership roles, this is an opportunity now to try and move that dial a bit more.

“So let’s just hold everyone to account and keep the pressure on the people, in the right way, and make sure they are held to account because these are the guardians of the game and if they are guardians of the game then they should expect to be held to account.”

Clarke’s comments were branded “harmful”, “archaic” and “deeply offensive” by a host of anti-discrimination groups.

Clarke was also condemned for saying that black and South Asian people had “different career interests” from each other, and drew complaints for saying a women’s coach had told him that the lack of women’s goalkeepers was due to girls not liking the ball being kicked at them.

The FA announced Clarke’s resignation early on Tuesday evening and Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari welcomed the swift action taken.

Bhandari said on Sky Sports News: “We are not just talking about anybody here, we are talking about the leader of our national game on a really major strategic issue for the FA, which is driving greater diversity and inclusion, making everyone feel they belong in the game.

“These were archaic attitudes which were really revealing themselves in comment after comment – a well-briefed chair or CEO would know exactly how to navigate that.

“It is not as if this is the first time, there have been previous incidents – like referring to institutional racism as ‘fluff’.

“What it shows is there is an attitude underlying which is really not the right attitude to be leading the English game.”

The FA finds itself embroiled in new controversy just two weeks after it launched a new diversity code, which aims to ensure more candidates from ethnic minorities can land top jobs.

In 2017, former England forward Lianne Sanderson gave evidence alongside Eniola Aluko at a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of racism within the game during which Clarke was criticised for describing the accusations as “fluff”.

Eniola Aluko answered questions in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in 2017

Eniola Aluko answered questions in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in 2017 (PA)

Sanderson believes Tuesday’s developments show how much work there is still to be done on the drive for equality.

“I often question how these people get into these positions in the first place, and then we wonder why racism and homophobia is on the rise,” Sanderson told Sky Sports News.

In announcing Clarke’s departure, the FA said: “We would also like to reaffirm that as an organisation, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to promote diversity, address inequality, and tackle all forms of discrimination in the game.”

The FA is yet to set out the process for the appointment of his successor, but the preferred candidate would need to be approved by the FA Council.

Clarke is also one of three FIFA vice-presidents representing UEFA and reports on Tuesday night suggested he will step away from that role too.

Cole’s former Manchester United team-mate Gary Neville called for a fundamental overhaul over the governance of the game.

Neville tweeted: “Compelling evidence again yesterday as to why an independent regulator is required for football. Football cannot govern itself!”