FREE entry for children saw a vibrant ‘family’ atmosphere at Wembley for the recent Women’s FA Cup-Final and enabled the Football Association to briefly burnish its gender equality credentials.
Supposedly keen to dispel the “men in blazers” image of the FA, the newish Football Association regime of Chairman Greg Clarke appears keen to go for the quick win of vapid sound bites rather than test itself against the best with some much-needed action, intervention or long term strategic change.
Worse still is the bafflingly contradictory attitude to secrecy. The FA Clarke leads refuses to name the eight professional football clubs who missed deadlines to cooperate in the ongoing sexual abuse enquiry, yet – apparently unaware of the possible disconnect - Clarke simultaneously appeals (“to be perfectly frank, they are reticent to engage with me”) for more LGBT footballers to end their secrecy and come out to fans, colleagues and the media.
So where has Clarke got to with some of the strategic, policy and corporate governance issues he inherited impacting women, gender and UK football?
With undue fanfare and self-congratulation, Clarke quickly found three FA board places for women. A quick look at the small print reveals this won’t happen until 2018(!). It is also in reality a financial rather than gender equality based decision made with a keen eye for FA funding maths since it may prevent the pending possible loss of £30million funding from Sport England (over a lack of independent directors on FA executive board).
Clarke’s gender diversity-lite agenda also saw him quickly seize upon and (rightly) criticise the deeply embedded discriminatory attitudes, albeit only when prompted to do so by inflammatory on record press conference comments made by David Moyes. Clarke was quick to tell the media, "It was regrettable, it was distasteful, and I think it showed a complete lack of respect. And we in the game stand for respect." Meanwhile, sexism remains fitted as standard and rife throughout all levels of the game the FA supervises without comment or action from Clarke.
Of course, under Clarke women’s football at all levels of the pyramid remains a very poor relation – at the grassroots level, schools level and also right up to the top tier of the game – in comparison to men’s soccer at the FA.
A child friendly day out at Wembley is one thing but the FA dereliction of their duty of care towards the safety of our young people or concrete action when it comes gender equality and LGBT rights is clearly altogether another.
Independent Directorship governance expert Gerry Brown comments, “Clearly governance questions remain for Football Association Chairman Greg Clarke to address when it comes to gender discrimination and historic child abuse as well as in the organization, funding and participation in women’s football in England at all levels. Worryingly, if we are to judge him by his actions rather than the organization he inherited some time ago now, Clarke’s FA turn a blind eye to governance and structural issues within his control – too numerous to list - while they deal with significant and troubling external situations so slowly that their inaction (and lack of updates or transparency) strongly suggests managerial ineptitude rather than measured carefully considered examination and analysis. The refusal to name backsliding clubs as well as the lack of updates or public statements – beyond the usual boilerplate ‘unable to comment upon ongoing Police investigations’ - also speaks very loudly to perceptions of inadequate governance.”