So now we know the truth about Football Association chairman Greg Clarke.
He really wasn’t that smart.
Racist, sexist, probably not. He used some very outdated language wrapped up in crudely stereotypical attitudes before a committee of politicians on Tuesday and paid a high price.
Clarke rightly apologised when corrected but, in the current climate, it was never going to be enough. He could not continue heading up an organisation that is supposed to be in the vanguard of equality issues, while talking like a caricature of a retired colonel in the bar of a Home Counties golf club.
Greg Clarke resigned as FA chairman following a disastrous Parliamentary panel with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in which he made reference to ‘coloured footballers’ among a host of other offensive gaffes
Even if his allies inside the FA — there appear to have been fleetingly few come the end – did not see this as a resignation matter, it was never going to end there.
Given Clarke’s clumsy language and the horrified reaction to it, how was the FA ever going to move forward with him at the helm?
How could the governing body steer clubs over diversity with a chairman who regards a significant number of modern footballers — including Raheem Sterling, considering his remarks concerned abuse on social media — as ‘coloured’?
How could the game attempt to encourage more footballers of Asian ethnicity when the head of the FA buys into the falsehood that kids from that background are more interested in computer studies? And the most worrying aspect? It might be argued this was not even Clarke’s worst appearance before a parliamentary committee.
Previously, in 2017, he termed concerns about institutional racism ‘fluff’ and the session ended with the DCMS select committee chair asking whether he was the right man to lead the FA. Similar questions were being asked on Tuesday. That’s two appearances, three years apart, and both ended with the same conclusion about Clarke’s competence.
So, seriously, this guy? This is the best we could get to head up the national sport? Whether one regards Clarke’s words as a product of outmoded attitudes, ineptitude or nerves, none of it made him the best fit for office.
If there was dark irony to be gleaned from Tuesday’s fall from grace it was that this was also the man we were supposed to believe was the true mastermind behind Project Big Picture.
Again: this guy? Mr Coloured Footballers and all-Asians-like-to-work-with-computers? The leader who should have appeared before the DCMS committee in a red nose and twirling bow tie? This was the brains of the operation, the evil genius behind the planned restructure of English football?
Clarke’s use of the term ‘coloured’ was particularly troubling and his resignation could prove to be a catalyst for change for an organisation that oversees all aspects of the nation’s sport
Every time Clarke was called to explain his role in governance, his big clown feet and the honking of motor horns should have preceded him. He should have entered to the same music as Laurel and Hardy. And this is the figure one headline described as ‘ruthless’ in the way he had presided over football’s proposed revolution?
Niccolo Machiavelli was a brilliant man; a diplomat and philosopher. Clarke could not withstand 10 minutes of scrutiny from some of the most mediocre political minds of the age without losing all credibility.
‘Coloured’ has long been a troublesome term. People of a certain generation still mistakenly consider it a polite way to say black. That was what happened to Alan Hansen on Match of the Day during a debate about racism in football. He later apologised.
Yet Hansen was not responsible for English football at the time and that controversy, which received huge public attention, happened nine years ago.
Was it too much to ask that the head of one of the most high-profile bodies in English public life paid attention to shifts in language and mood?
If coloured was unacceptable in 2011, we shouldn’t still be waiting close to a decade for a man in Clarke’s position to catch up.
He is not your 85-year-old grandad, he is not from an era with a lexicon considered wholly inappropriate now.
And, even if he was, Clarke’s position at the helm of an organisation that is central to debates around inclusion, equality and progress, meant it was unacceptable that he is not aware of how the conversation evolved.
Clarke has been criticised before for the language that he has used when discussing racism
His mitigation was laughable. He said that having worked in the United States — he was chief executive officer of Cable & Wireless until 2000 — he got accustomed to using the term ‘people of colour’ as part of their diversity protocols.
Indeed, and had he used the same term on Tuesday, there wouldn’t have been a problem — well, not with that specific sentence at least.
Yet how, having returned from America, did ‘people of colour’ become the antiquated ‘coloured’ people in his speech? It doesn’t take a student of racial politics to identify ‘coloured’ as a colonialist term, or to understand it is now regarded as a slur with dreadful connotations from the plantations of Virginia to apartheid-era South Africa.
Clarke, as head or an organisation that is supposed to be at the forefront of equality issues, should have been especially attuned to these nuances.
Just as he should have been aware that at a time when just 10 of 4,000 professional footballers are British Asian — 0.25 per cent of players from seven per cent of the population — stereotyping that community as computer nerds rather than potential athletes was unhelpful.
These are not just words, or opinions, coming from a man who was the figurehead of the game. If the Asian community feels distanced from football — as players, not consumers — it is the job of the FA to forge links, not buy into the old prohibitors.
Paul Elliott last month launched a new diversity code with the FA to tackle racial inequality
Clarke led the men’s game, the women’s game, the game as played in wheelchairs or by the blind, he led the game for black and white, for people of colour, for the disabled, for those who regard being gay as more than a lifestyle choice, and for anyone who felt outside the mainstream, because of race, physicality or sexuality.
We can continue finding divisions, but filling that role is the way forward. The chairman of the FA must lead football for all, and when he goes before the DCMS committee and gives the impression of being just another old, out-of-touch white bloke whose inadequacies should be indulged because he’s, well, an old, out-of-touch white bloke, there comes a time when we wonder how long we have to continue accepting this as the way of the world.
Last month, Clarke’s FA launched a new diversity code with the aim of tackling racial inequality. Certainly, Paul Elliott, the head of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, speaks very highly of Clarke’s commitment.
Yet while BAME under-representation at board and coaching level is frequently discussed, strategies such as the Rooney Rule never seem to apply to the top jobs at the FA. So it is any wonder we are confronted with language from a bygone age?
Unwittingly, Clarke may yet prove a genuine catalyst for change; because, frankly, after Tuesday’s debacle, this cannot stand.
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