(Reuters) – Greg Clarke has resigned as English Football Association chairman hours after referring to “coloured footballers” during questions from members of parliament on Tuesday.
The 63-year-old was widely criticised after making a series of inappropriate comments while taking questions from members of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) select committee.
“We can confirm that Greg Clarke has stepped down from his role as our chairman,” the FA said in a statement.
“Peter McCormick will step into the role as interim FA Chairman with immediate effect and the FA Board will begin the process of identifying and appointing a new chair in due course.”
Former Leicester City chairman Clarke, 63, was appointed by the FA in 2016, since when the governing body has worked hard to improve its stuffy image and become more inclusive.
In 2018, the FA launched its Pursuit of Progress initiative, aimed at increasing the diversity of those playing, officiating, coaching, leading, and governing English football.
However, Clarke’s outdated terminology on Tuesday led to outrage amongst anti-racism organisations and players.
“I was extremely disappointed to see Greg Clarke’s comments today in the DCMS select committee,” said Kick It Out chairman, Sanjay Bhandari.
“His use of outdated language to describe black and Asian people as ‘coloured’ is from decades ago and should remain consigned to the dustbin of history.”
Clarke was attending the DCMS meeting remotely, to discuss the Premier League’s financial rescue package for the English Football League (EFL) in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when questions turned to diversity in English football, and within the FA’s own ranks, he began to score verbal own goals at an alarming rate.
Asked about the difficulty gay players in the men’s game faced in ‘coming out’ in the social media age, Clarke said:
“If I look at what happens to high-profile female footballers, to high-profile coloured footballers, and the abuse they take on social media… social media is a free-for-all.”
DCMS committee member Kevin Brennan MP later picked up Clarke on his choice of words, prompting an apology.
“If I said it I deeply regret it,” Clarke replied.
“I am a product of working overseas, where I was required to use the phrase people of colour. Sometimes I trip over my words.”
Clarke was also criticised for voicing other stereotypes during the meeting. Talking about diversity within football, he said South Asians and Afro-Caribbean people had “different career interests”, using his own organisation as an example.
“BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities are not an amorphous mass,” he said.
“If you look at top level football the Afro-Caribbean community is over-represented compared to the South Asian community.
“If you go to the IT department of the FA there’s a lot more South Asians than there are Afro-Caribbeans. They have different career interests.”
Clarke also referred to gay players making a “life choice” – prompting further criticism.
Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones, whose question provoked Clarke’s “coloured footballers” comment, said his terminology showed the “urgent progress” that is needed on equality.
“I can’t believe we’re still here in 2020,” she said.
Former West Ham player, Anton Ferdinand, posted on Twitter that Clarke’s language was unacceptable, adding “clearly education is needed at all levels.”
Clarke later issued a statement of apology, but said he has been considering standing down anyway.
“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,” he said.
“I’m deeply saddened that I offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include.”
Writing by Martyn Herman; Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru