THIS week saw a lifetime first for me. I sat through a whole 2 hours and 40 minutes of BBC Parliament featuring a Select Committee meeting about football. Now, those who know me will know that unless Scotland are on the pitch or it's the World Cup (simultaneously would be even better), I’m just not there for the beautiful game.

But I watched this particular episode because I needed to know what caused the chairman of the English Football Association to go wildly off-script in his contribution and score so many own goals that the whistle for full time was blown and the ball, metaphorically, removed from him.

In a one-hour segment he labelled being gay a "life choice", referred to black football players as "coloured" and told us that girls didn’t like having the ball kicked at them. All this whilst earnestly agreeing with the MP questioning him, that more diversity in football was needed and he was a vigorous champion of it.

The question is, was Greg Clarke just having a bad day tripping up on his words, as he argued at the time, or is he a bit of a dinosaur with views last heard when the Bay City Rollers were big? I think it’s worse than both of those. What happened is a masterclass in what can go wrong when the idea of diversity in organisations is bolted on, an awkward inconvenience, a box to be ticked during the annual appraisal.

There are no lessons learnt through experience, or attempts to actively listen to people from diverse communities, or even to skim the first few pages of a book on the subject. In fact, if Greg Clarke had even the most perfunctory read-through of the diversity code which his own organisation launched a fortnight before, he might not have said what he did.

Talking about diversity might be zeitgeisty right now, but if you’re going to go there make sure you’ve put a proper shift in to understand it. For people from those communities it’s not a fashion accessory, it’s about fairness. It's life-changing. For people like Greg Clarke it’s the latest in a long line of things that are changing about the world with which he can’t quite keep up.

His apparent dismissal of genetic and biological factors by referring to gay men as having made a life choice, as if somehow sheer wilfulness governs one’s propensity to be gay, is jaw-dropping. The inference that gay people get up in the morning and play some fun game of heads or tails, is crass and offensive. It’s a lazy and outdated stereotype that can cause harm.

His use of the word coloured to describe black players was equally shocking. A term so steeped in the violent racism of the segregationist past of the United States that most of us thought it had been consigned to the history books. This was a term that demeaned and humiliated and the negative associations have grown with every passing decade.

And his story that a coach had told him that the lack of female goalkeepers was because girls did not like the ball being kicked at them, but preferred to kick it away, was surely something a man advocating diversity would understand was a completely valueless anecdote grounded in stereotypes.

So why go there? The session was ostensibly about football and Covid-19 and the questioners seemed particularly interested in Project Big Picture, which was a much-criticised scheme where the big beasts of the English Premiership got together earlier this year to talk about the division of the millions made from media rights. Although Clarke had pulled out eventually, the questioners wanted to know more about his role in the project. The questioning got tougher and eventually a female MP asked a question about misogyny in football, offering an opportunity to steer the conversation down a more human and apparently safer route – diversity.

Here he could be the social justice champion, and for extra oomph passionately rail at the abuse women, and black players, receive on social media. But, without that deeper understanding, Clarke began to flounder, moving from referring correctly to the Black and Minority Ethnic community as BAME, to referring to us as BAMMY (which means something completely different to us Glaswegians). From then on, it was watching-through-the-fingers time, as he warmed to his subject, and told a series of anecdotes built on lazy stereotypes.

The tragedy of this affair is that once again it seems that diversity has been treated with a carelessness, a lack of real understanding or depth, or worse still as some kind of distraction technique. It’s this apparent expandability that tells us there’s much more to do.

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