The English Football Association (FA) has confirmed that Greg Clarke has resigned with immediate effect from his role as chairman following what he acknowledged were “unacceptable words” to British lawmakers on Tuesday.
Speaking at a UK parliamentary committee, Clarke used the word “colored” to describe Black, Asian and minority ethnic football players. He had also been criticized for his comments concerning people from South Asia, gay players and female footballers at the same meeting.
“My unacceptable words in front of Parliament were a disservice to our game and to those who watch, play, referee and administer it. This has crystallised my resolve to move on,” Clarke, 63, said in a statement.
“I am deeply saddened that I have offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include. I would like to thank my friends and colleagues in the game for the wisdom and counsel they have shared over the years and resign from the FA with immediate effect.”
In a statement, the FA – English football’s governing body – said Peter McCormick would step into the role on an interim basis and that identifying and appointing Clarke’s permanent successor would begin “in due course.”
Clarke was speaking to British lawmakers, along with English Football League (EFL) chairman Rick Parry and English Premier League (EPL) chief executive Richard Masters, about the failure to come to an agreement on a Covid-19 rescue package for the EFL, which governs the three leagues immediately below English football’s top tier, the EPL.
When answering questions about why there are no players who identify as gay in the men’s game, Clarke said at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee meeting: “If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, high-profile colored footballers and the abuse they take on social media … social media is a free-for-all.”
Asked by lawmaker Kevin Brennan if he wished to retract his use of the word, Clarke replied: “If I said it, I deeply apologize for it.”
“Secondly, I am a product of having worked overseas, I worked in the USA for many years, where I was required to use the term ‘people of color’ sometimes because that was the product of their diversity legislation and positive discrimination format. Sometimes I trip over my words.”
The FA released a statement soon after the meeting, saying that Clarke, who had been FA chairman since 2016, was “deeply apologetic for the language he used.”
When earlier in the meeting he was asked what the FA was doing to increase representation and diversity in grassroots football, Clarke said the FA’s ethnicity pay gap was “nearly non-existent” and that the organization’s gender pay gap had been “fundamentally reduced” but added that the BAME community was not an “amorphous mass.”
“If you go to the IT department at the FA there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans,” he continued. “They have different career interests, so what we have to do is treat each individual on their merits but make sure we are inclusive and our programs which don’t cross the line into possible discrimination.”
In a statement issued before Clarke’s resignation, Sanjay Bhandari, the head of anti-racism group Kick It Out, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Clarke’s comments.
“His use of outdated language to describe Black and Asian people as ‘colored’ is from decades ago and should remain consigned to the dustbin of history,” the statement read.
Clarke had also been criticized for appearing to suggest that being gay was a choice, when asked why there were no footballers who identify as gay at the elite level of the men’s game.
“… What I would want to do is to know that anybody who runs out on to the pitch and says on Monday ‘I am gay and I am proud of it and I am happy, and it is a life choice and I have made it, and my life is a better place because I have disclosed it,’” he said. “If they have gone through that chain of events that is great.”
Football v Homophobia, an international organization that helps tackle homophobia in the sport, said: “The idea that being gay is a life choice is an outdated concept that many people will find deeply offensive.”
Towards the end of the meeting, Clarke had also said that he had been told by a coach that young girls did not like the ball being kicked hard at them.
Clarke has been under pressure for his role in ‘Project Big Picture,’ the failed attempt by the Premier League’s top clubs to revamp the league, reduce teams and provide a bailout package to the EFL.