Eni Aluko accuses England Women manager Mark Sampson of 'racist' Ebola remark
The manager of England Women, Mark Sampson, is facing explosive new claims by Eni Aluko after she accused him of telling her to ensure her Nigerian relatives did not bring Ebola to a game at Wembley.
Aluko also revealed the Football Association had been aware of the alleged comment since November, claiming it had not investigated the matter despite her complaining that another mixed-race player had been asked by Sampson how many times she had been arrested.
The FA conducted an internal investigation and independent inquiry into the latter accusation following a formal complaint of bullying and discrimination by Aluko, with both clearing Sampson of any wrongdoing.
Despite this, it emerged earlier this month the FA had paid Aluko £80,000 at the conclusion of the second inquiry to “avoid disruption” before last month’s European Championship.
Aluko broke her silence on the case on Monday, with the FA’s consent, branding the decision to clear Sampson of a number of allegations she made against him as a “farce”.
She also went public with another alleged comment - one the Professional Footballers’ Association described as a “racist joke” in a letter to the FA - which she claimed Sampson made at a hotel before England played Germany in November 2014.
She told the Guardian: “On the wall, there was a list of the family and friends who were coming to watch us and I just happened to be next to Mark.
“He asked me if I had anyone who would be there and I said I had family coming over from Nigeria. ‘Oh’, he said. ‘Nigeria? Make sure they don’t bring Ebola with them’.
“I remember laughing but in a very nervous way. I went back to my room and I was really upset. It might have been easier to take if it was about me alone. Lots of things had been said about me over those two years but this was about my family. I called my mum and she was absolutely disgusted.”
The FA confirmed Sampson denied making the Ebola remark, which it admitted it been notified about in a letter from the PFA in November.
The PFA had also cited an allegation by Aluko that one member of staff repeatedly spoke to her in a mock Caribbean accent.
The letter branded the FA’s internal inquiry as “not a genuine search of the truth” and “a sham which was designed to establish the truth but intended to protect Mark Sampson”.
The FA said it was unable to investigate the allegations in the letter because Aluko had not made a formal complaint as she could not corroborate them.
It also pointed to her refusal to participate in the subsequent independent investigation by barrister Katherine Newton.
The FA did not interview the alleged mixed-race victim of the “arrest” comment after Aluko failed to identify her, with Newton clearing Sampson of wrongdoing based on video evidence of the meeting in 2015 at which it was claimed to have taken place.
However, Aluko said the FA could easily had worked out who she was had it chosen to do so, saying: “They could have got her name in minutes if they really wanted the truth.”
She added of the unnamed player: “She has put it in writing to confirm it happened. Yet, the FA has had two investigations and nobody has been in contact with her. They were having an investigation but they did not bother to speak to the person to whom a comment with racial connotations – in my opinion – was made. I think that’s pretty astonishing. Can you imagine, thinking back to when Roy Hodgson [as manager of the England men’s team] made the comment about the ‘space monkey’, if the FA had an inquiry, clearing him of any wrongdoing, but without bothering to speak to Andros Townsend, the player he was talking to? Well, that’s what has happened in this case.”
Sampson broke his own silence on the matter last week, saying he “fully understood” the need to investigate and pointing out Newton had found “no case to answer”.
But he did admit her report highlighted areas where he could improve his “general communication style”, which he said he had taken on board.
Aluko, who has won 102 caps in an 11-year international career and is the current holder of the Golden Boot in the Women’s Super League, claimed she was dropped by Sampson within a week or so of first outlining her complaints against him as part of a confidential review.
Newton’s report found that Sampson’s reason for leaving her out - due to her attitude and behaviour - was credible.
Aluko claimed she was also sent an email within 24 hours of meeting leading FA executives to discuss her complaint informing her the governing body was conducting an investigation into her work as a sports lawyer for a football agency. Aluko questioned whether that was a coincidence or "something far more sinister".
Newton’s inquiry found nothing untoward with that investigation, the barrister concluding: “The timing is unfortunate. However, having examined all the evidence, I do not consider that the integrity investigation is in any way a retaliatory act in response to EA having raised her complaints. Nor do I consider EA’s race to have played any part whatsoever in the decision to either start or proceed with the integrity investigation.”
However, Aluko said: “I believe all these things are happening because it’s a conversation about race and this is a big problem in the world right now.
“On the pitch, there are clear punishments when it comes to issues involving race. Behind closed doors, we don’t know the FA processes.
“We do know [the mixed-race player] has not been picked since this incident. Lianne Sanderson hasn’t been picked since she complained about why her 50th cap was forgotten on the same trip that the 100th cap of a white player was remembered. Lianne asked: ‘Why me?’ The 50th cap is a customary celebration. It’s standard. There is a presentation in front of the team and you have a special shirt with ‘50th cap’ written on it. It’s a big deal. She asked why she had been forgotten and she hasn’t been picked since.
“Anita Asante disappeared without trace despite playing for one of the best teams in Europe. Danielle Carter scored two hat-tricks for England and doesn’t get picked any more – why? There are lots of national teams that are very white, not just England, and I’d hate to say we should be picked because we’re black or mixed race. But are we all bad characters? Are we all terrible players? That’s the question I think people need to be asking because a pattern is emerging here, as clear as day, and my belief is that it’s a culture.
“For months, one member of staff used to talk to me in a fake Caribbean accent. He thought it was okay to do that; he thought it was funny. I believe he was empowered to do that because of the culture. We pleaded it [in submissions to the FA] but they chose to ignore it.
“Yes, in a football environment, industrial language is used. I’ve been at Chelsea five years and been the butt of many jokes. And I give it back sometimes. That is the beauty of team spirit in a healthy dressing room. I’m not a sensitive, precious person. I’ve been in the [England] team for 11 years, I’ve been through ups and downs. I’ve played for boys’ teams. I’ve played for Chelsea, at the top level, and I’ve been dropped by Chelsea before but I can recognise something toxic when I see it. This is a culture that has systematically dismissed certain players. There is lots of talk about being the most together team in the world – I’ve truly never felt so isolated as I was in that team between 2014 and 2016.”