Former England women’s football coach Mark Sampson made remarks that were “discriminatory on grounds of race” towards two black players but was not racist, a report published on Wednesday said.
Sampson, who guided the team to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and this year’s European Championships, was sacked last month after FA chiefs were alerted to what it termed an “inappropriate” relationship he had with a player in a previous job.
That followed weeks of speculation about his position after it emerged he had already been the subject of two FA investigations into allegations of discrimination made by Chelsea striker Eni Aluko.
Independent barrister Katharine Newton concluded in her final report — published on Wednesday — that Sampson was not racist, but that he twice made “ill-judged attempts at humour” towards the players.
Newton was called in by the FA in December 2016 to follow up an internal investigation into claims made by Aluko against Sampson.
Aluko issued several allegations but the two central claims were that he made discriminatory remarks to her ahead of an England-Germany game in 2014 and her Chelsea team-mate Drew Spence at a players’ meeting in 2015.
Newton’s first review, completed in March, backed the FA verdict that there was insufficient evidence to say whether Sampson made the remarks, and cleared him of Aluko’s other claims of bullying and racism.
In the conclusion to her reopened investigation into Aluko’s claims, Newton said: “I have concluded that on two separate occasions, (Mark Sampson) has 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.
“However, that is not the same as concluding that (Sampson) is racist. In fact, I consider it fundamentally important to emphasise that I have not concluded (Sampson) is a racist.”
Newton said she had re-examined all of Aluko’s other complaints about Sampson discriminating against her.
On these matters, Newton has not changed her mind and continues to believe Sampson was innocent of bullying or picking on Aluko.
In a statement, FA chief executive Martin Glenn, due to give evidence to the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee on Wednesday, said: “On behalf of the Football Association I would like to sincerely apologise to Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence.
“Based on new evidence submitted to independent barrister Katharine Newton, she has now found that they were both subject to discriminatory remarks made by an FA employee. This is not acceptable.”
Aluko, who previously accepted compensation of £80,000 ($105,000) from the FA, said she felt “vindicated”.
The player, speaking to lawmakers at the Commons hearing, said: “My overwhelming emotion is relief. It has been a long process getting to this point.
“I’ve been put in this situation, and was always honest and truthful about those comments and other comments I made about the culture under Mark Sampson.
“I feel vindicated and relieved, It suggests it was all worth it.”