After months of accusations, sackings and now government scrutiny, the Eni Aluko affair has come to a head, with the player's allegations of racist abuse and bullying vindicated. DW looks at how it came this far.
Crisis has engulfed the English Football Association's (FA) senior management over their handling of claims of racism by the player Eni Aluko against Mark Sampson, the England women's football coach who was fired last month.
The case was brought to the House of Commons select committee in London on Wednesday, where the FA's chief executive Martin Glenn and chairman Greg Clarke were quizzed over their decision to offer Aluko ‘hush money' amounting to 80,000 pounds (€89,000), their sacking of Sampson for an unrelated case of misconduct and the two FA enquiries that absolved Sampson of any wrongdoing.
The main revelation was that a third enquiry, by barrister Katharine Newton, had found Sampson guilty of discriminatory remarks towards both Aluko and her Chelsea and England teammate Drew Spence. This was contradictory to the findings of two previous internal inquiries, which Newton was also responsible for, which ruled that Sampson had no case to answer. However, Newton emphasized that despite these findings, she did not consider Sampson racist.
"I have concluded that on two separate occasions, Mark Sampson has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on the grounds of race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010,” Newton wrote. "However that is not the same as concluding that he is racist. In fact, I consider it fundamentally important to emphasize that I have not concluded that he is a racist.”
The British sports minister Tracey Crouch had already labeled the FA's handling of the case a "mess” and the select committee chair, Damian Collins, suggested the four leading members of the FA – Glenn, Clarke, technical director Dan Ashworth, and human resources director Rachel Brace – were not suitable people to run the FA.
What is Eni Aluko alleging?
Aluko claims Sampson told her to make sure her Nigerian relatives didn't bring the Ebola virus to Wembley ahead of an England game. Sampson is also alleged to have asked Spence, a mixed race player, how many times she had been arrested, in claims first published by the British newspaper the Guardian.
Aluko was offered an out of court settlement of 80,000 pounds by the FA to sign an agreement that they claim was to "avoid disruption” ahead of Euro 2017 in July. Aluko's lawyers believed the agreement she signed prevented her from speaking about the case. It later emerged that the FA withheld half of the money until Aluko released a statement saying that the FA was not institutionally racist – claims the FA deny.
"I felt that was bordering on blackmail,” Aluko told the committee.
Clarke had to issue a hasty apology for describing claims of institutional racism as "fluff” and the England Women's goalkeeping coach, Lee Kendall, was accused of regularly imitating a Caribbean accent when talking to Aluko.
Sampson, 35, continued to coach England despite the claims against him having been made public, with the FA maintaining that he was fit for the job after the two internal investigations. But he was eventually fired in September – although his sacking was for an unrelated case.
The FA dispensed of Sampson after details of a safeguarding investigation into his conduct before he was England coach emerged. At the time, Glenn said the decision to terminate Sampson's contract was obvious after he became aware of the "full detail” of inappropriate relationships the Welshman had with female players while he was manager of Bristol Academy.
While at Bristol, Sampson worked first with 10 to 16-year-olds at the center of excellence and later as the senior first-team coach. The allegations were made by more than one player and are said by Clarke to range from the "trivial to the very serious”.
Glenn, who joined the FA in March 2015, insists he was first told of the investigation in October 2015. He read the full report only last month and later passed it on to Clarke.
There has been widespread condemnation of the FA's handling of the case, with many leading figures in the English game demanding urgent reform of the organization. Some have called for Aluko, who has 102 England caps, to be given a role at the FA
"Instead of trying to silence Eni Aluko the FA should give this impressive young woman a voice to change things from within the institution," former England striker and BBC presenter Gary Lineker said on Twitter.
Even celebrities such as rapper Stormzy have supported Aluko, with Stormzy criticizing the response of the former England goalkeeper David James, who claimed on Twitter that Aluko "can't deal with with the fact that she isn't good enough anymore”
While Sampson denies the allegations against him, much of the England team continue to publicly support him. However, his career looks to be in ruins and the saga could rumble on for the FA.