Football Association chairman Greg Clarke resigned on Tuesday evening after using a series of racist and offensive phrases during a parliamentary hearing earlier in the day.
Clarke appeared via Zoom at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee to answer questions as to why there had been a lack of progress in securing a financial rescue package for English football.
However, members of Parliament probed Clarke on issues of discrimination, and when asked why there isn’t an openly gay men’s footballer at the elite level in England, Clarke said, “The answer is I don’t know, right, because I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people from the LGBT community. I’ve talked to LGBT athletes from other sports who have come out.
“The views I’ve heard is if I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, high-profile coloured footballers and the abuse they take on social media … why would you voluntarily sign up for that abuse?”
Clarke, who became chairman in September 2016, later apologised in the hearing when the comments were highlighted, and the FA released a statement shortly afterwards in which he expressed his remorse for a second time.
However, both the FA and Clarke faced a ferocious backlash from influential figures throughout the game, including anti-discrimination and equality campaigners such as Kick It Out, Show Racism the Red Card and Stonewall.
Sources have told ESPN that the 63-year-old spoke to several members of the FA board for their backing but failed to garner sufficient support, which led to his resignation announcement just after 5 p.m. Peter McCormick was placed in interim charge.
Clarke said in a statement: “As a person who loves football and has given decades of service to our game, it is right that I put the interests of football first.
“2020 has been a challenging year and I have been actively considering standing down for some time to make way for a new chair now our CEO transition is complete and excellent executive leadership under Mark Bullingham is established.
“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.
“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.”
Sources have told ESPN that various FA employees were shocked by Clarke’s comments, despite coming in the midst of an attempt to sympathise with the discrimination felt by many minorities within the English game.
During the hearing, Clarke also claimed that “if you go to the IT department at the FA, there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro Caribbeans” because “they have different career interests.” He described homosexuality as a “life choice” and claimed one coach told him girls playing football don’t like the ball being kicked at their face.
After making his initial comments about “coloured footballers,” Clarke then proceeded to take another question before DCMS committee chairman Julian Knight interrupted to bring in another member, Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan.
“Mr Clarke, diversity is not really the issue is it — football is diverse — it’s inclusion that’s the issue,” began Brennan.
“When you said something earlier on, I think I heard you refer to ‘coloured people’ — if that’s the case, would you want to withdraw that language? Because isn’t that exactly the sort of language that means that inclusion is not a reality even though football is very diverse and has many people in it from ethnic minority backgrounds and also people who are gay.”
Clarke responded: “One, if I said it, I deeply apologise 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 colour’ because that was the product of their diversity legislation and positive discrimination format. Sometimes I trip over my words and I deeply apologise.”
Sources have told ESPN that Clarke is expected to step down from his position as Britain’s vice-president of FIFA.