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English soccer chief resigns after offensive public remarks on race, gender

Greg Clarke blamed time spent in the United States for using an outdated term for people of color.
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LONDON — The head of English soccer's national governing body has stepped down after he made comments offensive to many Black people, women and members of the LGBTQ community during a single appearance before a parliamentary committee.

During a car-crash online appearance before lawmakers from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Greg Clarke, 63, referred to Black soccer players as "colored," an outdated and offensive term that sparked outrage.

Called out for his language during the meeting, Clarke apologized and backpedaled, blaming time spent in the United States where he was "required to use the phrase 'people of color,'" he said, making him "trip over my words."

Sanjay Bhandari, chairman of anti-racism soccer organization Kick It Out, said he was "extremely disappointed" by Clarke's remarks.

"His use of outdated language to describe Black and Asian people as 'colored' is from decades ago and should remain consigned to the dustbin of history," Bhandari said. "It is completely unacceptable."

Image: FA chairman Greg Clarke at Wembley Stadium, London.
English FA chairman Greg Clarke resigned on Tuesday after a spate of offensive remarks. Carl Recine / Reuters file

Later, speaking about diversity within English soccer, Clarke who is also a vice president of international soccer body FIFA, said South Asians and Afro Caribbean people had "different career interests."

"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," he told the committee, referring to the Football Association.

"Slip of the tongue was it, awful just awful," former soccer star Darren Bent, who is Black, tweeted after Clarke's comments.

Clarke also referred to being gay as a "life choice" and while paraphrasing, said female players at a young age "just don't like having the ball kicked at them hard."

The professional network Women in Football said his comments were "outdated stereotypes."

He resigned hours later.

"My unacceptable words in front of Parliament were a disservice to our game," Clarke said in a statement later Tuesday. "I am deeply saddened that I have offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include."

British Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston acknowledged Clarke's comments had caused "deep offense" and said he was "right to stand down."

The Football Association confirmed Clarke's resignation and has since appointed Peter McCormick as the interim chairman. The governing body said it was "absolutely committed" to tackling discrimination. While FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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British soccer, like sports globally, has been wounded by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Games were tentatively restarting, some with limited spectators, but have since been curbed as the country returns to a second round of national lockdown restrictions.

Clarke's comments also come at a time when Britain, breaking away from Europe after its Brexit decision, grapples with issues of identity and multiculturalism.

This summer saw Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupt in London and elsewhere in solidarity with those happening in the United States after the police killing of George Floyd. The protests saw statues of colonial era figures torn down as Britain continues to reckon with its imperial past.

Clarke's comments also follow remarks made by Northern Irish lawmaker Lord Kilclooney, who faced heavy criticism Monday for a now-deleted tweet referring to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as "the Indian."

Not all agree with the criticism of Clarke.

Former England World Cup star John Barnes, who is of Jamaican heritage, told NBC News that Clarke's comments were likely a "slip of the tongue" perhaps due to him being of "a particular age," and the public scrutiny should instead focus on his intentions.

"If you look to nitpick over situations like that, we lose great ability and possibility of really getting to the crux of inequality," Barnes said.

"Yes, he's clumsy in what he's actually saying because of the way he's been conditioned to think, but then to be called a racist and a homophobe and a sexist ... is I think disingenuous and insincere."

Reuters contributed to this report.