The media frenzy around the inappropriate comments made by the now former FA Chairman Greg Clarke to the DCMS committee will of course start to subside in the coming weeks and months.
It is worth restating what Clarke actually said because I still read it and find it difficult to comprehend that the leader of the national game in this country would say the things he did. He used the word coloured to describe black players, said that being gay was a life choice, that black and Asian people had different career interests with reference to Asian people working in IT and that the lack of female goalkeepers was because girls didn’t like the ball being kicked at them.
If the deadline announced of 31st March to find a replacement is kept to and that is a big if, then the spotlight will not fall on The FA again until then and in my view, the main focus will be on the candidates on the short list and their gender and ethnicity like it never has been before.
What it will not be about is the reform needed to drag The FA into the 21st Century and make it a genuine governing body for football and not one that predominantly runs the England team and the football disciplinary process. The recent debacle around the so-called Big Picture initiative showed them almost as a spectator in a process and discussion dominated by the PL and EFL.
If you work in football, as I have for the last 30 years, then you get to accumulate a lot of knowledge around organisations like The FA, PL and EFL. and The FA is, and always has been, resistant to structural change. I have had the opportunity to meet and discuss issues of the day with various FA chairmen and chief executives. Keith Wiseman and Geoff Thompson were very much in the mould of those who went before them and never rocked the boat. Lord Triesman, David Bernstein and Greg Dyke all came into the role with ambitions to change the organisation but none lasted more than three years before giving up on those ambitions and spending their time in a more productive way. Greg Clarke was in many ways a return back to the past. Alongside the various chairmen were an array of different characters in the chief executive role in Graham Kelly, Adam Crozier, Mark Palios, David Davies, Brian Barwick, Ian Watmore, Martin Glenn and the current incumbent Mark Bullingham. Some of those supported the agenda for change and in recent times good progress has been made with the diversity agenda in particular and I know that many staff in The FA felt very let down by Clarke’s comments. Structural change is talked about but that is about it. In recent days Bernstein and Dyke in particular have been hugely critical of the role of the FA Council and the largely unknown voices who obstruct change. Dyke’s advice was telling. He advised anyone thinking of applying for the job not to!! Dyke said “If you like being a chair and have lots of nice trips and see a lot of good football, fine, take it. If you want to reform the organisation and the structure of English football, don’t bother”.
I am sure there will now be an open and diverse recruitment process. The public and the media will demand no less but as for structural change well don’t hold your breath. The Football Leadership Diversity Code is a positive step forward but that is only one part of addressing what needs to be done.
What I have learnt over the years is that the change needed will not come from within the FA. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. What we need is an independent regulator to implement the reform that is needed. It is time to stop talking and to start acting.
Actions speak louder than words as they say.
Peter Varney – Chairman
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