Former England coach Mark Sampson apologises to Eni Aluko and Drew Spence

Guardian sport on 21 January 2019

The former England women’s coach Mark Sampson has apologised unreservedly to Eni Aluko and Drew Spence for remarks he made to the players while in charge of the national team.

An inquiry, after the allegations had been published by the Guardian, by the independent barrister Katharine Newton found in October 2017 that Sampson had “on two separate occasions made ill-judged attempts at humour, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on the grounds of race” but added that “it was fundamentally important to emphasise that I have not concluded that MS is a racist”.

Sampson was sacked by the Football Association in September 2017 following allegations of “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” in his previous role as manager at Bristol Academy. The 36-year-old received a significant financial settlement from the governing body this month after bringing a case of unfair dismissal against his former employers.

Sampson has not worked since his dismissal and told the Times on Monday that he now regrets how he handled the complaints from the two players. “I answered based on my recollections and what I felt was true to my character and the way I use language,” he said. “I believed strongly that the way the team worked, if I had said something that offended anyone, it would have been brought up at the time. I was wrong. Ultimately, two players were offended by language I used. For that I apologise to Drew and Eni unreservedly.

“When players made complaints, they needed to be handled with the respect they deserved. I don’t think it was handled with the humility that it should have been by a lot of people. I certainly should have played a much more active role to ensure they were handled more respectfully. That’s a big regret I will always have.”

Sampson was appointed England manager in 2013 and led the team to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Canada two years later. They lost that game but finished third by beating Germany 1-0 after extra time.

Two years later, at the European Championship in the Netherlands, England won their group and beat France in the quarter-finals before losing to the hosts, who went on to win the tournament, in the semi-final.

Sampson was still in charge as England started their World Cup qualifying campaign for this summer’s tournament in France but left the day after a 6-0 victory against Russia in September 2017.

On Monday he said: “As a white male I needed to do more and I’ve worked hard to educate myself. I reached out to Lord Ouseley [of Kick it Out] and, very honourably, he invited me into the Houses of Parliament for a coffee. We had a really positive conversation.

“I spent six weeks with Kick It Out on their educational course for equality and diversity. I need to play a more active role in making a difference. It’s something I will do for the rest of my life.”

Phil Neville was appointed as Sampson’s successor in January 2018 and has led England to the World Cup in France, which starts on 7 June.

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