England Woman’s Football Team

Despite a successful European Championships for the England Woman’s Football Team there has been off the field issues lurking behind the scenes for the Lionesses this summer. Manager, Mark Sampson, has been accused of racial discrimination and bullying by former striker, Eniola Aluko.

Aluko, a qualified lawyer in both the UK and US, has alleged that Sampson made comments about her Nigerian family being infected with the Ebola virus, belittled her in front of teammates and wrongly accused her of laziness and ill-discipline. She also alleges Sampson asked a mixed ethnicity player how many times she had been cautioned by police, despite the player never having any legal troubles.

Since raising these allegations, Aluko has not been selected for the National Team despite being the top scorer in the Women’s Super League. Furthermore, Lianne Sanderson, another England international and key witness for Aluko, has raised concerns that she will no longer be selected to represent her country due to supporting Aluko.

A three month long independent investigation cleared Sampson of any wrongdoing, whilst a discrimination claim was reportedly settled for £80,000 to prevent the issue distracting England away from  the European Championship. Aluko was also awarded a one year England contract worth £20,000 despite her international hiatus.

Whilst football is hardly a beacon of progressive HR practises there are several lessons for employers to take away. When handling issues to do with discrimination, it is important to take a prescriptive view. A middle-aged, white male from Wales might not perceive assuming a mixed-ethnicity woman from South London has a police record as racist but the recipient of the assumption, or, a person of similar characteristics, might find it racist.

When investigating behaviour, it is important not to victimise people who make, or, give evidence to support, the complaint. Not only is this a breach of the Equality Act it is also a sign to outside observers that the employer does not actually care about tackling the issues of bullying and discrimination. Window dressing won’t fool anyone.  Finally, incidents such as this do not only pose a huge financial risk they can also do untold levels of reputational damage.