Thursday 17 August 2017: “The FA can confirm an independent investigation found no wrong-doing in respect of a grievance raised by Eniola Aluko in 2016.
“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.
“The independent investigation commenced in December 2016 and concluded in March 2017. 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.”
That was the statement released by the FA 11 days after I revealed that the governing body had paid former Chelsea and England striker Eni Aluko for her silence after she had raised serious grievances against then England manager Mark Sampson.
This was an independent investigation, following an internal investigation. Both of which found there was nothing to see here. Included with the FA’s statement was 157 words from Sampson including the peculiar boast that “Over the last three years, the team have reached both World Cup and European Championship semi-finals, and in the process, climbed from 13th to fourth in the Fifa world rankings”.
It’s hard to keep count in this case of which investigation came when, because the governing body would later announce that another investigation had this time found that Sampson had made discriminatory remarks to Aluko and her team-mate Drew Spence, and the FA finally issued an apology.
Sampson was already gone by then, after the FA miraculously discovered “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female footballers when he was manager at Bristol Academy. When put to Martin Glenn, FA chief executive at the time, that it was suspiciously coincidental timing that highly-successful Sampson (as his own words attest) was ousted while under intense media pressure regarding the Aluko accusations, Glenn insisted “they are two very different things”.
It was at this point it became hard to keep count how many times FA officials had reiterated how thorough the investigations had been. “The concerns Eni Aluko raised were about perceived bullying and perceived racism,” Glenn added, assuredly. “We have investigated those properly, there have been two separate investigations actually which have broadly concluded there’s no systematic evidence for that.”
The reason I am recounting this series of events is that there are some strange parallels emerging regarding allegations and subsequent investigations into David Elleray. Elleray has been the most powerful official in world football and an FA stalwart. A former Premier League referee, technical director at football rule-makers Ifab, two decades as an FA Council member. This season he is listed as chair of the FA referees committee and a member of the Football Regulatory Authority committee and Youth Participation committee.
There was a previous internal investigation into racism claims against Elleray in 2014 that concluded with Elleray apologising and attending a diversity course. An independent investigation was launched in December 2021 following a string of i exclusives relating to Elleray’s conduct. Elleray has been involved in several controversies including accusations of racism, bullying and fat-shaming. Elleray has never responded to requests for comment on the allegations.
And that investigation concluded with the FA deciding to take no further action against Elleray. A statement released by the governing body revealed, however, that Elleray was stepping down from all roles. That’s… again, intriguing timing.
Another peculiar element of this is that I can find no evidence of the FA Spokesperson Twitter account, which regularly shares updates and quotes from the FA, posting about it. This is the FA Spokesperson quick to tweet last week that “contrary to reports” the FA would continue playing the “Three Lions” song at Wembley games and major tournaments. But nothing on the Elleray report. It is almost as though the outcome was deliberately tucked away on the FA’s website with the hope that nobody would read it.
You would think that an organisation which has received hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ funding over the years would consider it had a degree of commitment to transparency, but this all raises an awful lot of questions.
What were the parameters set by the FA for the investigation? And, really, why should the FA be able to set parameters? If an investigation is truly independent from the organisation commissioning it, shouldn’t the investigator be allowed to see where the investigation takes them?
The FA did concede that the report made “several recommendations” about improving the culture of FA refereeing and the lack of diversity. Which sounds as though that’s stumbling outside parameters, but who knows. The FA won’t reveal them.
The FA had denied that the independent investigation would re-examine its 2014 internal investigation, yet the statement suggests that it found “the investigation in 2014 was compliant with the relevant FA policy”.
Any uncertainties around the process, regarding an extraordinarily restricted independent investigation or the FA appointing themselves final judge and jury without letting anyone else see the outcome could of course be cleared up if the final report was made public. The FA insists that given the investigation was confidential “it would not be appropriate to divulge any further details”.
A fair point, perhaps. How about with redacted names? When I asked about this on Monday the FA declined. OK then, what about making the “several recommendations” public? It is considered good practice for organisations to publicise this kind of thing, so there is a measure by which they can be held accountable. That was also a no.