By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, United Kingdom
Mark Sampson, the England Women’s team manager, was sacked on 20 September, concluding, what can only be described as a difficult period for The Football Association (the FA), that raises a lot of questions about the leadership and management within the confines of the Wembley Stadium, the headquarters of the FA.
Mark Sampson was appointed in 2013 as the manager of England’s women team. Whilst the performances and results of the England women’s team dramatically improved (he only lost 14 of his 58 games in charge and finished in third place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015), his conduct off the pitch has ultimately led to his dismissal and the FA to suffer serious embarrassment over the affair.
In August 2017, it was revealed that Eni Aluko, the former England striker, was paid £80,000 by the FA to compromise a complaint, brought in May 2016, relating to alleged racist and discrriminatory comments made by Mark Sampson.
Amongst other things, the Nigerian-born Aluko alleged that Sampson told her to make sure that her Nigerian relatives did not “bring Ebola” to an England game at Wembley in 2014. Sampson also allegedly made a comment to a mixed-race player regarding the number of times she had been arrested.
Following Aluko’s complaint, two investigations were undertaken.
Both the internal FA investigation and an independent investigation led by the barrister Katherine Newton, cleared Mark Sampson of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the FA still decided to make a payment of £80,000.00 to Aluko in relation to the complaints she had raised.
The agreement signed by Aluko and the FA, was, according to the FA, to “avoid disruption” prior to Euro 2017. Whilst the exact terms of the agreement are unknown, it is likely that the agreement contained a confidentiality clause (known, colloquially, as a ‘gagging clause’) that prevented either party from discussing its terms. The FA denied that the agreement prevented Aluko from talking about her complaint.
Martin Glenn, the FA chief executive, explained that Mark Sampson was sacked due to details that had emerged of safeguarding allegations made against Sampson in 2014, relating to a period of time when Sampson was the manager of the Bristol Academy. Glenn stated that the FA only became aware of these safeguarding allegations made against Sampson this September and, on reading the report, Glenn “felt that what I saw was incompatible with the standards that we’d expect for someone to work at the FA”. It is of note that the FA produced a report in relation to the safeguarding allegations in 2015 (following a year-long investigation) that found that Sampson did not pose a risk, although there was evidence of inappropriate relationships with players during Sampson’s time at the Bristol Academy.
The sacking of Mark Sampson highlights a possible lack of communication within the FA hierarchy. Questions need to be answered why the 2015 report by the FA was only brought to the attention of the current FA leadership in September 2017.
Despite the sacking of Mark Sampson, this episode is not over for the FA.
On 18 October, a British Parliamentary Inquiry, headed by Damian Collins MP (Chairman of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee) is scheduled to take place in relation to the investigations undertaken by the FA and independently into the complaints made by Eni Aluko. Aluko, as well as Senior FA management, are due to give evidence at this Inquiry This is now expected also to deal with whether the FA had received earlier warnings about Sampson’s alleged behavior and bring some clarity generally to the matter.
As a result of the handling of the Mark Sampson affair, some commentators are, once again, calling into question the ability of the English FA to govern ‘the beautiful game’!
Jonathan Copping can be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@boltburdon.co.uk’