It all began with remarks by England women’s football team manager to one of his black players telling her to make sure make sure her Nigerian relatives did not bring Ebola to a game in London.
When Eniola Aluko made a formal complaint about it, the Football Association (FA) cleared her boss Mark Sampson of any wrongdoing. But following a further accusation of racism against him from another player, Sampson was sacked in September.
Earlier this month, English football’s governing body was described by one MP as “shambolic” in its handling of the affair following a four-hour parliamentary hearing during which Aluko said it had been trying to protect Sampson and its own reputation.
She also accused it of behaviour “bordering on blackmail”, claiming FA chief executive Martin Glenn told her the release of a £40,000 settlement was dependent on her writing a favourable statement clearing the organisation of institutional racism. He denied asking her to do this.
Although Aluko, 30, said she felt “vindicated and relieved” by the investigation which also revealed that England goalkeeping coach Lee Kendall had repeatedly spoken to her in a mock Caribbean accent, her 11-year England career now appears to have come to an end.
The player, who was born in Nigeria but came to England with her family as a child, was dropped from the team after she first aired her grievances about Sampson’s behaviour in May 2016.
Sampson’s alleged Ebola remarks were made in November 2014 just before England played Germany at Wembley. “We were in the hotel,” recalls Aluko. “Everybody was excited. It was a big game. On the wall, there was a list of the family and friends who were coming to watch us and I just happened to be next to Mark. He asked me if I had anyone who would be there and I said I had family coming over from Nigeria. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Nigeria? Make sure they don’t bring Ebola with them.’”
Although the incident was described by the Professional Footballers’ Association as a “racist joke”, the FA chose to ignore it despite a previous allegation that Sampson had asked black player Drew Spence how many times she had been arrested during her first England call up in 2015.
The probe into Sampson was resumed after Aluko went public about her complaint in August, describing its own internal investigation as a “sham”.
For Aluko, who has been capped 102 times and also plays for Chelsea women’s team, the long running saga reveals the institutional racism deep in the heart of football. She told the Irish Times in August that within 24 hours of meeting FA chiefs to discuss her complaint she received an email telling her it was holding an investigation into her work as one of its sports lawyers. Aluko questioned whether it was another coincidence or “something far more sinister”.
She suggested black players were routinely treated in a cavalier manner, saying that England defender Anita Asante had “disappeared without trace” despite playing for one of the best teams in Europe – Sweden’s FC Rosengard, while forward Danielle Carter “scored two hat-tricks for England and doesn’t get picked any more – why?”. As for Spence, she hadn’t been asked to play for the national side since.
The can of worms revealed at a hearing by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on October 17 led to its chair Damian Collins calling for resignations at the the top of the FA. The FA meanwhile has made public apology to Aluko and Spence for comments that were “discriminatory on the grounds of race”. Sampson, who was appointed England manager in 2013, denies the allegations.