English FA facing questions over ‘hush money’ for bullying complaint
Eni Aluko’s complaint includes allegation of remark made with racial connotations
Eniola Aluko in action for England against Belgium last year. Photograph: Getty Images
The English Football Association is facing questions over why it paid “hush money” to international footballer Eni Aluko after it emerged that a bullying complaint against the England manager, Mark Sampson, included an allegation that he made a remark with “racial and prejudicial connotations” to another player.
Aluko, one of England’s most recognisable female footballers with 102 caps, was paid around £80,000 to sign an agreement that the FA claims was to “avoid disruption” ahead of this summer’s Euro 2017.
Aluko’s lawyers believe that the agreement she signed prevents her from speaking about it but the FA insists she is now free to talk about the facts of the case.
The Guardian have revealed that her complaint contained an allegation that Sampson made a “highly inappropriate” remark with whereby he asked a mixed race player how many times she had been in trouble with the police.
“During a meeting with the midfielders’ unit of players, of which I was not present, MS (Sampson) used an analogy about pressing hard in midfield and getting a caution like a police caution,” Aluko’s evidence states. “MS then addressed the player individually and said in relation to being cautioned by police: ‘Haven’t you been arrested before? Four times isn’t it?’”
Aluko, whose brother Sone plays for Fulham, was last season’s top scorer in the Women’s Super League and featured in the Professional Footballers’ Association women’s Team of the Year.
However, the 30-year-old was not part of the England squad that reached the semi-finals of the European Championship, instead working as part of Channel 4’s commentary team. Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out, has already said the FA needs to explain the full details around the case, pointing out it has a “responsibility to be transparent”.
The FA held an internal investigation and also commissioned a confidential independent inquiry, which did not uphold Aluko’s complaint and found no case for disciplinary action, before deciding not to take action against Sampson or any member of staff. Yet Aluko’s evidence states her team-mate was left “distressed” by the comment and that other players confirmed they did not take it as a joke. The Guardian knows the identity of the player concerned but decided not to name her.
Aluko, who is also a qualified lawyer, says in her complaint there were “derogatory, racial and prejudicial connotations” and the FA will now have to explain why it went to such apparently extraordinary lengths to prevent the case becoming public.
As well as the £80,000 payment, the governing body also awarded Aluko a new one-year central contract, worth £20,000, despite her making it clear she would never appear for England again “under his management”.
Aluko has not played for England since April and her eight-page complaint, emailed to the FA’s technical director, Dan Ashworth, and head of performance, Dave Reddin, as part of an exercise to gather information about the culture within England’s squads, alleges a “culture of bullying and harassment” in the women’s setup.
Aluko’s evidence continues: “This comment about the player was made with derogatory, racial and prejudicial connotations. It was also a defamatory, untrue statement given that the player has never been arrested and MS’s comment indicates an assumption (subconscious or conscious) that being mixed race from London suggests a criminal record with the police.
“Although I was not present at the meeting, other players confirmed MS made this comment. Other players confirmed the comment was not received as a joke and created an awkward atmosphere in the room. I was deeply concerned about this comment and felt it was highly inappropriate for the national team coach to make such a sweeping negative generalisation about a new player in the team.”
Publicly, Aluko has stated only that she believes team selections were made on the basis of “popularity” rather than form. However, privately the player who has won 102 caps for her country appears to have felt like she was the victim of sustained bullying and alleges the unfavourable treatment began a month after Sampson’s appointment in April 2014.
Drawing a link to the alleged incident, Aluko’s complaint continued: “As a black female in the team, understanding the unfavourable, racial and social connotations underlying MS’s comment further heightened my feelings of fear and isolation, especially in light of the previous instances where I have been negatively singled out, too.”
It is understood that footage of the meeting exists, which was relied upon by Katherine Newton, the barrister who conducted the FA’s inquiry, but that it was not supplied to Aluko’s team and it is not clear whether it shows the entire exchange. It is also understood that Aluko was not interviewed as part of the process, with one source also claiming that the player in question was not spoken to either.
The FA refused to comment on the details of the allegations but said that it made the agreement with Aluko to avoid disruption for Sampson and the women’s team in the buildup to the European Championship. The FA, it can also be confirmed, paid for the independent investigation that was overseen by Newton from December to March. Newton eventually delivered a report stating there was no case to answer.
“The FA can confirm an independent investigation found no wrong-doing in respect of a grievance raised by Eniola Aluko in 2016,” the governing body said in a statement.
“Following an internal review into allegations raised by Eniola Aluko last year, the FA commissioned an independent investigation conducted by a barrister, Katharine Newton, from Old Square Chambers. Ms Newton is an expert on employment and discrimination law,” it said.
“The detailed independent investigation report did not uphold any of Eniola Aluko’s complaints and found no wrong-doing on behalf of the FA or others. The report recommended that a more detailed response to Eniola Aluko’s original complaints should be made and so the FA commissioned Ms Newton to write to Eniola Aluko to provide such a response, in order to ensure complete transparency and objectivity of the findings.
“Eniola Aluko remains a centrally contracted player. A complaint was made in 2016 and Eniola Aluko is not precluded from speaking about the facts of that complaint.
“Notwithstanding the independent investigation’s findings, the FA agreed a mutual resolution so as to avoid disruption to the squad’s tournament preparations. It was not to prevent disclosure.”
Aluko says she has declined to comment because of the terms of her confidentiality agreement and the Guardian understands she is said to be surprised by the suggestion from the FA that she is now free to talk. Her case alleged another incident, in the video analysis of one match, when one coach praised her fitness results and another replied: “Yeah, but she is lazy as fuck.”
In another instance, one coach could be heard saying: “Fuck off Eni” after she lost possession. The analysis was said to have been available to all players. Aluko claimed staff would try to “undermine and belittle” herself and others.
Asked whether it or Sampson wanted to comment on the specific allegations, the FA referred to its statement.