The Eni Aluko case has been bubbling over since first breaking a fortnight ago. This week former England international Aluko spoke out after manager Mark Sampson was cleared of any wrongdoing for alleged prejudiced comments made to a teammate by an independent investigation. The whole ordeal has been underpinned by an as-yet unexplained payment of £80,000 from the Football Association to Aluko ahead of England’s participation in Euro 2017, with suggestions that the Chelsea Ladies forward was paid off to keep the allegations against Sampson quiet until after the tournament. This isn’t the first time hush-money has hit the football headlines in recent memory, and as stratospheric sums of money are pumped into the game this latest development signposts the worrying rise of cash-over-conscience culture at the top level.
“Haven’t you been arrested before? Four times isn’t it?” joked Mark Sampson, addressing a mixed-race member of the England squad in October 2015. It was this ‘joke’ that led to Eni Aluko, capped 102 times at international level, to submit a complaint of racism to the FA. It emerged this week that this was not the first time the Welsh manager had made off-colour remarks to his players, having previously told Nigerian-born Aluko to make sure her family “don’t bring Ebola with them” when visiting to watch England take on Germany in 2014. This incident, along with the comment from 2015 both featured in Aluko’s letter of complaint, along with further allegations of racism against other members of the England Women’s coaching staff.
Following the anonymous report, Aluko was visited by Sampson whilst training with Chelsea, and was told by her national manager that she was being dropped from the squad. Despite being assured that her name would not be associated with the complaint, its an enormous coincidence that a player who had been a regular fixture in the England Women’s first XI, and had won the Golden Boot for Chelsea in the Women’s Super League, would suddenly be dropped from the national team for, as Sampson put it, “unlioness behaviour”.
There is every chance this case will rumble on, but it’s the confidentiality agreement drawn up by the FA, along with £80,000 to buy Aluko’s silence, that offers a murky sideshow to what is already a deeply concerning series of events, and brings into question the dealings of football’s top brass. It appears that English football’s governing body has put a price on the integrity of its game, and is seemingly willing to turn a blind eye to problems on its own doorstep. Ironic then, that FA Chairman Greg Clarke was quick to condemn the hush-money payments made during the football sex-abuse scandal last year.
“I find it repugnant that people would suppress the reporting of crimes against children to protect their reputation. We have to hunt down the bad people and get them out of the game as quickly as possible.”
The football sex-abuse scandal, which broke in November 2016, brought into sharp focus the reality of a multi-billion pound industry’s relationship with ethics. Statements from former footballers revealed that coaches and staff at clubs including Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle United had groomed and sexually abused youth players during the 70s, 80s and 90s. During the investigation it emerged that Gary Johnson, who joined Chelsea as an 11 year old in 1970, had received payments from the club in 2015 totaling £50,000 in order to prevent Johnson revealing details of abuse he suffered at the hands of scout Eddie Heath. The investigation into this abuse and these payments are ongoing, though the spectre of financial punishment will not hang too heavy over Chelsea’s oil rich owner.
“They may have paid others for their silence. I hope and pray no clubs are allowed to cover this up – no one should escape justice. We need total transparency now for the good of the game.”
The notion of buying silence is not limited to the English game, and it would come as no surprise that FIFA have been embroiled in a hush-money scandal. In 2015, during the fall of the House of FIFA, it was confirmed that the keepers of world football’s keys paid the Football Association of Ireland $5m in order to quell their dissent following Thierry Henry’s famous handball that took France to the 2010 World Cup at Ireland’s expense. The arrogance of FIFA’s payoff – Blatter made jokes about the FAI pushing to make Ireland the 33rd team at the tournament in South Africa – highlights an endemic problem in football the world over. From the moment Joao Havelange took his place as the president of FIFA in 1974 football became business over pleasure. The old white privileged men that sit in office at the FA and FIFA (among others) have a proven lack of honesty and are willing to sell every last value and principle of the game at the right price. The $5m dollars paid out to the FAI was easily recouped from a World Cup that held South Africa at gunpoint and emptied its pockets. The £80,000 spent keeping Eni Aluko quiet was small change compared to potential sponsorship, advertising and television rights income the FA stood to lose by allowing allegations of racism cloud the manager of the women’s national team ahead of a tournament.
Given the amount of cash now floating around the game these types of accusations are likely to crop up on a regular basis, however given that no-one appears to be policing these ‘confidentiality agreements’ its perhaps only a matter of time before even darker sides to football are covered up with hush-money.
The Eni Aluko case should rightfully centre around the allegations of racism and the fight to stamp out any remnants of attitudes that English football thought it had left long behind. A full investigation into Mark Sampson’s comments is surely forthcoming, and the conversation on racism and the “banter” it is badly dressed up as will depressingly be reappearing on the table.