FA's inherent problems on show as Aluko, Clarke, Glenn all testify
LONDON -- If the Football Association's ability to stay calm and inspire confidence when under pressure is any indication of its ability to run the nation's biggest sport, it is clearly failing.
In a small select committee room at the House of Commons on Wednesday, four of its key executives were questioned by Members of Parliament over the Mark Sampson saga and the result wasn't pretty.
Technical director Dan Ashworth, chairman Greg Clarke, chief executive Martin Glenn and human resources director Rachel Brace were at times, as they sat in a line facing the politicians, faltering, frustrated, defensive and, worst of all, evasive.
They sought to counter a series of MPs' accusations on serious issues from process failures and blackmail to a cover up, having just released a statement confirming former England women's manager Sampson made racially discriminatory remarks to England players Eni Aluko and Drew Spence.
Along the way Clarke managed to clumsily call the issue of institutional racism "fluff" and make another statement about the PFA's governance that its executives in the public seats looked mightily offended by.
Glenn was also forced to apologise -- for once unreservedly -- for another poorly worded comment in a newspaper interview about the ethnicity of a lawyer the FA recruited, when it was pointed out such an employment stance may have broken discrimination laws.
But the fact the Aluko and Spence allegations had brought them to an inquiry into governance by the digital, culture, media and sport committee, and that they were made as long ago as last spring, told its own story.
Aluko's complaints were only resolved on Wednesday -- during a re-opened, second and final independent investigation -- which criticised the FA's internal review conduct and processes. The MPs' chairman, Damian Collins, not for the first time, issued a vote of no confidence in the body after the evidence session.
He and some of his colleagues found it hard to believe what they read in evidence and heard in response to questioning, even asking for privileged correspondence to be supplied to back up one of the FA's claims.
Aluko supplied a lot of the detail they struggled to get their heads around. One example was her settlement from the FA last year -- reported to be worth £80,000 -- for her racism and bullying claim against Sampson to compensate for lost future earnings.
Yet the 30-year-old Chelsea striker remains a centrally contracted England player and insisted "I haven't retired" from international football, even though the domestic league's last Golden Boot winner -- who has 102 caps -- hasn't been picked for her country since first raising her grievance in May 2016.
"The settlement is rather bizarre because it is recognising you are not going to be picked, isn't it?" MP Paul Farrelly asked. "It seems so," Aluko replied. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
It was later put to Glenn than this was "hush money," which he tried to deny by saying the settlement was agreed to ensure there were no distractions for the England women's team at the European Championship last summer. The difference between the two was subtle, to say the least.
Glenn confirmed the FA had split the settlement into two payments to further protect those preparations, but Aluko is still to receive the second tranche. She claimed he'd asked her to make a statement saying the FA wasn't institutionally racist in order to get the full payment, but he countered that she'd breached the terms in a tweet about the governing body.
It was an ugly mess, in the House of Commons and in the detail of the evidence presented. As Aluko hypothesised whether Wayne Rooney or Harry Kane would have been treated like her, she said: "It shows women aren't taken seriously."
Clarke, who has not been at the FA as long as Glenn and Ashworth, and described taking his job as "career suicide," at least appeared forthright on a number of topics. He also deserved credit for following through on a promise to apologise to Aluko after the hearing and arrange time to hear her concerns in person.
The chairman was not damning, but he was hardly full of praise for the state of the FA either. He rated the management quality as six out of 10.
"There certainly were systemic failures historically which contributed to this mess," Clarke said. "The issue for me is: Is our chief executive and his management team making it a lot better than it used to be? And my firm understanding is yes ... we have not lost faith."
The select committee inquiry is into sporting governance generally and hopes to report early next year. Clarke alarmingly claimed "no UK sport has decent whistle-blowing processes," but while he and the FA address that issue for football at Wembley, there is another potential problem looming.
Sampson's lawyers have indicated to the FA they may pursue a case of wrongful dismissal. He was sacked last month for a historical issue relating to a safeguarding report which revealed "unacceptable behaviour" with female players at his previous club.
The former England manager has always denied any wrongdoing but Aluko suggested in evidence the FA had actually sacked him because of her complaints rather than the "conduct issue" Glenn pointed to.
"There was enough evidence around on this case at the time we employed him, that we should have found it," Clarke said. "It has changed -- we spend a lot of money raking through cupboards now."
Former men's team manager Sam Allardyce is also reported to be in legal correspondence with the FA and disputes the claims that led to his sacking as England manager in September 2016, which could lead to further action.
The FA will surely now be eager not be caught out again on national team appointments.
But on whistleblowing, internal investigations and public perception, there can be no such confidence.