The 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 can reveal 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 has chosen 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 [Sampson’s] management”.