In the end, it was one single interview with a government panel that ended the tenure of Football Association chief Greg Clarke.
Talking to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Clarke was there to share insights into advancements for the LGBTQ community in soccer. Instead, he managed to hit the insensitivity trifecta — racism, sexism and homophobia — in his comments.
This is not a surprise to many people. While Clarke has done his best to end problematic chants and root out these issues in his sport, he has continued to seem — to me, at least — out of touch. He has been, to many, the wrong man for the job.
His three gaffes today reflect that.
First, Clarke called people of Asian, African and Caribbean descent “colored,” a term that has not been acceptable for decades. More on this below.
Then, he claimed that he’s been told by a coach that it’s hard to attract girls to be goalkeepers in soccer because girls don’t like the ball kicked hard at them, and claiming the sport needs to find other ways to attract girls to the position.
Even if someone did tell him that... that’s ridiculous. Has he not watched the Women’s World Cup? Or American collegiate women’s soccer? There are boys and girls who don’t like to have the ball hit hard at them. There aren’t many 5-year-olds of any gender who want to be hit in the face with a soccer ball. To further this notion that it’s a problem with just the girls... factually wrong at worst, tone deaf at best.
Finally, Clarke seemed to refer to being gay as a “life choice”:
“Anyone who runs out onto the pitch and on Monday says ‘I am gay, I am proud of it and I am happy and it’s a life choice and I have made it and my life is a better place because I have disclosed it,’” Clarke said, “I do believe they would have the support of their mates in the changing room.”
This last comment is particularly surprising to me, given Clarke’s engagement with the LGBTQ community over the last few years. Him using the term “life choice,” after all of the alleged education he’s received on LGBTQ issues, tells everyone he simply wasn’t listening.
The term “colored”... what do you even say. It has been outdated for decades, even if the term “people of color” is commonly accepted — and Clarke used that to defend himself. Yet it’s hard for the head of all English soccer to claim a slip of the tongue on that or any of it.
And if he did just “trip over my words,” as he claimed, that further demonstrates a true lack of commitment to understanding minority communities — an understanding that is absolutely mandatory for someone of Clarke’s position today in sports.
I don’t “trip over my words” like that. No one I know has used the term “colored” in my presence in probably 30 years. It speaks volumes.
Since I first met Clarke and heard him speak about LGBTQ acceptance in soccer in 2017, Clarke has publicly failed to grasp the current state of homophobia in sports or the real issues that need to be addressed.
One of the many things that sucks about this incident is that he was actually saying that he believes gay athletes will be accepted by other athletes in soccer, something we’ve been trying to tell him and everyone else in sports for years. It’s been substantiated by a recent study of LGBTQ-male-athlete stories.
It’s seemed to me for years that Clarke is an affable guy who, on the issues of diversity and inclusion, is in over his head. Now it will be up to the FA to find someone who comes at this with a bit more knowledge and insight into these issues.