English football chiefs were forced into an embarrassing U-turn yesterday and have apologised to Eni Aluko and Drew Spence after fresh evidence found they were subjected to discriminatory remarks by sacked England Women manager Mark Sampson.
Before being grilled by MPs as part of a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of racism, Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn apologised to the two players on behalf of the organisation after it had initially stood by the findings of two previous investigations — the first of which was criticised for not interviewing key witnesses including Aluko — that cleared Sampson of wrongdoing.
Yet the final report from independent barrister Katharine Newton, who conducted the second investigation, found that Sampson used “ill-judged attempts at humour, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race” towards Aluko and Spence.
However, Newton also concluded that Sampson, who was sacked by the FA last month over conduct in a previous role at Bristol Academy, was not a racist and did not subject Aluko to a campaign of bullying.
“On behalf of the Football Association I would like to sincerely apologise to Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence,” said Glenn in a statement.
“Based on new evidence submitted to independent barrister Katharine Newton, she has now found that they were both subject to discriminatory remarks made by an FA employee. That is not acceptable.”
Sampson was found to have asked Spence, a mixed race player, how many times she had been arrested and told Aluko to make sure her Nigerian family did not have Ebola when they came to Wembley.
It concluded that Sampson did submit Aluko to “less favourable treatment because of her ethnicity”.
Glenn, alongside FA chairman Greg Clarke and director of HR Rachel Brace, were subjected to robust questioning by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, who were probing their handling of complaints against Sampson
Clarke received particular condemnation after he referred to “all the fluff about institutional racism, institutional bullying”.
The chairman withdrew the remark and went on to add: “The material issue is twice an England player with 100 caps was exposed to a situation where racist abuse happened. That is a fundamental breach of our duty of care to that person and I feel very bad about that.”
Clarke was also forced to defend a dismissive 14-word reply to an email from the Professional Footballers’ Association about the failings of the inquiry into the Sampson affair and further information relating to his behaviour.