Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has admitted the governing body has “lost the trust of the public” and promised a “top to bottom” cultural review of the national football centre at St George’s Park.
Clarke’s frank assessment came in a 2,600-word speech to the FA council’s autumn meeting at Wembley on Thursday.
The chairman described last week’s appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee as “a bruising personal experience and the culmination of a very damaging episode for the organisation”.
Clarke, FA chief executive Martin Glenn, technical director Dan Ashworth and HR boss Rachel Brace were invited to appear before the DCMS panel to explain the FA’s handling of the allegations of bullying and racism made by England striker Eni Aluko against former England women’s team manager Mark Sampson.
Clarke told the council the quartet went to Westminster to defend themselves and the actions they took in response to Aluko’s complaint, hoping to persuade the MPs that mistakes were made but lessons have been learned and their intentions were good.
“We failed,” said Clarke, explaining how the judgement of the politicians, media and public was “very clear”.
He then repeated the apology the FA made to Aluko and her team-mates Lianne Sanderson and Drew Spence, all of whom have aired grievances against Sampson, who was eventually sacked last month for what the FA judged was inappropriate behaviour in his previous job at Bristol Academy.
Clarke then described the reaction to Wednesday’s hearing, saying that “a storm has blown through us and we have struggled to cope”.
That storm, he claimed, “stripped us of our veneer and exposed some deeper fundamental truths” about why the FA’s successes are taken for granted but its failures leapt upon.
“I believe it is because we have lost the trust of the public and I think this lack of trust is underpinned by three characteristics,” Clarke said.
These characteristics, he explained, are the FA’s huge remit and a perception it lacks competence, a lack of diversity throughout the organisation and, unlike most other national football associations, a failure to properly utilise the experience and skills of senior players and managers.
To illustrate these points, Clarke described a meeting he had last week with a number of county FAs in Sheffield, where the conversation about grassroots issues was “positive, supportive and full of good intentions”.
But among the “10 or 11” in the room there was only one woman and no one from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, said Clarke.
“As I reflected on the meeting, and on the lessons of the Aluko case, it was clear to me that our good intentions alone are no longer enough,” he said.
“We had a number of black players within our senior England women’s team who did not trust us enough to share their experiences of discriminatory behaviour.
“All they could see was a white hierarchy who had no experience of what it feels like to be a black person on the receiving end of inappropriate comments.”
Saying the FA “needs to be an organisation of this time”, Clarke said it was clear to him that the governing body must “simplify its mandate in order to be competent”, “embrace inclusivity” and “harness the expertise” of senior players and managers.
Warning the council that society is changing at an “exponential” pace and the FA’s attempts to keep up “are no longer cutting it”, Clarke said the last few weeks have shown “how out of step we are”.
According to the former English Football League and Leicester chairman, the FA has been tracking public views of its performance and only barely one in four fans think the governing body is competent, with slightly fewer having a positive perception of the FA.
Clarke then told the 126 members of English football’s self-styled parliament this lack of trust is why the FA’s ‘good news’ stories are ignored and “undermined” its ability to tell its side of the Sampson story to Parliament.
“We have not earned the right to be listened to because people look at the FA and they don’t see an organisation that reflects society trying to make football better or easier for them – they simply see an organisation that at best is not relevant to them and their enjoyment of the game,” he said.
To fix this, Clarke said the immediate priority is to put in place a robust whistle-blowing and grievance procedure for England players. Work on this has started with UK Sport and will be finished by December, when it will be shared with other sports.
The second initiative will be the “full cultural review” of St George’s Park, where there is currently only one BAME coach working with an age-group team.
This issue was raised by former FA director Dame Heather Rabbatts over the weekend, when she described that national football centre as having a “mono-culture” and said Ashworth’s position as the boss there was “untenable”.
Clarke, however, asked the council to go even further by granting permission for the board to review the FA’s scale and scope, as well as coming up with a plan to radically boost diversity and make better use of the collective wisdom that is in the game.
This suggests Clarke wants the FA to stop trying to be a “corporate entity…industry-wide regulator…development agency…educator and accreditor”, as well as running Wembley, the FA Cup and trying to get England to win tournaments.
“I am not surprised that we continue to go through chairmen and chief executives – to deliver all of that is an immense challenge – well beyond what would be considered a sensible scope in the corporate world,” he said.
On the challenge of boosting diversity, Clarke accepted that he was “rightly castigated” for using the term “fluff” to describe the claims of institutional racism at the FA during last week’s DCMS hearing and said: “It was a terrible word to use and I deeply regret it.”
He said the point he was trying to make was that he does not believe in “inclusion initiatives for their own sake” – the determination to make changes must be at heart of everything the FA does from the board to the clubs.
He concluded by telling the council that the board would publish its views on his proposals by the end of the year and he proposes that the council discusses them at its next meeting in January.
“Our history is full of poor choices and missed opportunities we have later repented,” he said. “We turned our back on FIFA and the World Cup thinking it was not for us. We turned our back on women’s football, thinking it was not for us. We turned our back on five-a-side and artificial pitches, thinking it was not for us. We even turned our back on the World Cup-winning team of 1966 and their manager.
“Let’s not turn our back again.”