FA under fire from MPs after apologies to women players
By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) - The Football Association made a public apology to England women's soccer internationals Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence on Wednesday for comments that were "discriminatory on grounds of race" made to them by former manager Mark Sampson.
Senior FA officials later admitted to failings as they came under fire from MPs at a four-hour parliamentary inquiry where they were also accused by experienced international Aluko of having had an "agenda" to protect Sampson and their reputation.
An investigation by an independent barrister, which prompted the FA apology, also concluded that the 35-year-old Sampson, who was sacked by the FA last month for "inappropriate and unacceptable" behaviour in a previous job, was not racist.
At the parliamentary hearing, the FA's chief executive Martin Glenn said Sampson's solicitor had informed them he was considering a claim for wrongful dismissal.
Aluko told the hearing she felt "vindicated and relieved" that an investigation had concluded that Sampson, who has denied the allegations and been cleared of discrimination by two inquiries, had been judged to have made the remarks.
She also claimed at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee hearing that Glenn had intimated to her that if she released a statement saying the FA was not institutionally racist then she would receive the second part of an 80,000-pound ($106,000) settlement she had agreed with them.
"I felt that was bordering on blackmail. I categorically refused to write any statement," she said, also revealing that she had not been paid the second part.
At the hearing, Glenn said he categorically denied the accusation, saying he believed that a tweet sent out by Aluko about the matter had been a breach of their agreement. He added that the FA "would reflect" on whether to pay her the rest of the settlement.
Glenn had earlier said in a statement: "I would like to sincerely apologise to Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence."
Revealing the findings of independent barrister Katharine Newton's reopened investigation, Glenn said she had found, after hearing new evidence, that Aluko and Spence had both been subject to discriminatory remarks made by Sampson.
"This is not acceptable," he added.
"In her final report Katharine Newton concluded that on two separate occasions Mark Sampson made ill-judged attempts at humour, which as a matter of law were discriminatory on grounds of race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.
"Katharine Newton did, however, conclude that Mark Sampson was not racist."
Aluko had claimed that Sampson had told her to be careful that her Nigerian relatives did not bring the Ebola virus with them when they came to watch a game at Wembley.
Spence, a mixed-race player, alleged that after being called up to the England team in 2015 she was asked by Sampson how many times she had been arrested.
At the parliamentary hearing, Glenn, one of four senior FA officials giving evidence, defended the way the FA had gone about resolving the Sampson matter but admitted: "There have clearly been failings."
The investigation had found "no evidence to support the allegations that Eniola Aluko was subjected to 'a course of bullying and discriminatory conduct' by Mark Sampson".
The 30-year-old Aluko, who was capped 102 times for England but has not played since making her claims last year, told the hearing: "I feel vindicated and relieved.
"Although I'm grateful to be here today, does it have to come to this? There's been an agenda to protect Mark Sampson, and an agenda to protect the FA's reputation."
She sorted out a settlement with the FA, she said, to avoid the threat of an employment tribunal disrupting the England women's team's preparations for this year's European Championship.
($1 = 0.7592 pounds)
(Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Ed Osmond)