Wigan Athletic owner Dave Whelan has found himself engulfed by a storm after his apology for perceived anti-Semitic comments was branded “half-hearted”.
He is also facing the prospect of being given a lengthy ban by the English Football Association.
Whelan’s comments about Jewish people, made in a newspaper interview in which he was defending his decision to hire the former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay, have reverberated throughout football and beyond.
Mackay was hired despite being under investigation for allegedly sending racist, sexist and homophobic texts and Whelan responded to criticism saying: “I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else.”
He later apologised, saying he has “hundreds of Jewish friends” and that he had been misquoted.
But Jonathan Arkush, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “His half-hearted apology does not go far enough. You cannot insult a whole group of people, and then say, ‘I would never insult them’, and hope that’s okay. We need to see a proper apology and full recognition of the offence caused.
“Whelan, in his role as chair of a football club, has a responsibility to set the tone for both his players and supporters. Racism and anti-Semitism will prevail on and off the pitch if it’s acceptable and unchallenged in the boardroom. We will be taking up the matter with the FA and Kick It Out.”
The FA, which earlier this week upheld a four-month ban on a county FA official for using overtly sexist language, said: “We are very concerned to read about the comments that have been attributed to Dave Whelan.
“We take all forms of discrimination seriously. This will be dealt with as a priority. The investigation is already under way and the FA’s governance division have written to Mr Whelan. He has three working days to respond.”
In his apology, Whelan said: “I would never, ever insult a Jewish person. I have got hundreds and hundreds of Jewish friends. I would never upset a Jewish person. I would never upset them because I hold them in the highest regard.”
He said in the original interview that there was nothing wrong with using the word “Chink” in reference to Chinese people. He also apologised for this remark, saying: “The Chinese community. . . again, I’ve got loads of Chinese friends. I would never insult the Chinese.
“I know Malky Mackay insulted them and they take that name seriously. I understand their point of view completely. He apologised to them and I hope they accept that. I apologise on my behalf and on behalf of the club. We do not ever want to insult any nation or any person in the world.”
But Cardiff owner Vincent Tan, who sacked Mackay from his post there last December, reacted angrily to Whelan’s words. The Malaysian said: “This is a racist chairman hiring a racist manager.”
He added: “I think he insulted the dignity of all Jewish people. I think he insulted the dignity of Chinese.”
Wigan said the club would not respond to Tan’s remarks, but both Whelan and Mackay have denied being racist.
Mackay is already the subject of an FA investigation for allegedly sending racist text messages to Iain Moody, his former head of recruitment at Cardiff.
Whelan is now facing a critical situation at Wigan after sponsors Premier Range, a kitchen firm, and sports drink company iPro Sport announced they were severing ties with the club due to the appointment of Mackay.
He found an ally in Hull City manager Steve Bruce, who was once employed at Wigan by Whelan. “Maybe sitting on the fence might be the easiest thing to do but I’ve worked under Dave Whelan twice – I know him very, very well,” said Bruce. “There’s no racism in him at all.
“Sometimes words can be said which can be misplaced, they can be out there in the public domain, but certainly when I’ve worked with him there’s been no sign of racism. He is without question one of the best chairmen I’ve worked for.”