Eniola Aluko says she has had no support from most of her England team-mates since her racial abuse case and questioned whether the squad’s ‘togetherness’ was “just a hashtag on Twitter”.
After three inquiries, former England manager Mark Sampson was found to have used discriminatory language to two players – Aluko and Drew Spence
The Football Association has since apologised for its handling of the case, adding there was “much to learn from this episode”.
But England striker Aluko, who has won 102 caps and lost her place in the team after making unproven allegations of bullying in a 2016 FA cultural review, says she has had no communication from her international team-mates, except for those she plays with at Chelsea.
This is despite the 30-year-old believing England players may “benefit” from improvements to the Football Association’s grievance process resulting from the case.
Aluko has previously criticised the England players for running over to celebrate a goal with Sampson during their World Cup qualifier against Russia, which proved to be the 35-year-old’s last game in charge.
She believes they need to adopt the policy of other international teams, who have fought equality issues as a “collective voice”.
In her first interview since contributing to the Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport inquiry into FA governance at Westminster last month, Aluko told BBC Sport she was “proud the truth has been corroborated”, but is keen to draw a line under a “stormy” episode and is open to helping the FA to improve its culture and grievance process.
She also said:
- Players might have reacted differently if homophobic comments were made.
- England players need to learn the meaning of real “togetherness” from their international peers.
- They should elaborate on suggestions she is not a team player.
- She is sorry for some of her tweets directed at England players when they celebrated with Sampson.
- The “time has come” for Sampson to show humility – but she does not need an apology from him.
- Playing for England is “not a priority” right now.
‘Would there have been a different response if homophobic statements were made?’
England players have largely been silent in public since the FA apologised to Aluko.
She told BBC Sport: “Would there have been a different response if homophobic statements were made to players? I think there would be.
“Some of this is just a lack of appreciation of what racism is. A lot of this is, ‘it hasn’t happened to me, I can’t relate to that, so I’m not going to comment’. That, to me, can’t be a team.
“I’ve got to be able to put myself in your shoes and say, ‘even though I can’t understand what it may feel like, I’m going to try and understand and I’m going to support you regardless’. That is a team.
“So a lot of the stuff moving forward needs to be perhaps diversity training, collective conversations, difficult conversations. A lot has to happen, but we can look at other examples around the world and say we can do much better.”
‘Is England’s togetherness just a hashtag?’
Aluko’s case, which first came to light when details of her grievance and settlement were leaked to a newspaper in August, has asked many questions of the FA, and chairman Greg Clarke admitted the organisation had “lost the trust of the public”.
It has come at a time when many women’s teams are pushing for equality – European Championship runners-up Denmark went on strike in order to get a pay rise, while Norway’s players are now paid the same as their male counterparts.
Aluko, who has been supported by fellow England players Anita Asante and Lianne Sanderson, says she has been “inspired” by those teams, and believes the Lionesses need to learn “true togetherness”.
She said: “I’ve had a lot of support from other countries: Norway, Sweden, France, particularly the United States girls. In their case they have Megan Rapinoe taking a knee in protest at the treatment of black people in America, while others sing the national anthem.
“That was discussed among the team, and while some players didn’t agree with her stance, they still respected it. That’s what we need to learn from. I should not be sat here saying I haven’t had any communication from my team-mates, bar the Chelsea girls.
“We need to look at other examples and ask why this isn’t happening with a team ranked third in the world. Is the togetherness we keep banging on about actually being put into action or is it just a hashtag on Twitter?
“Unless we do that, I don’t think we can achieve what we really want to.”
‘Players need to elaborate if they think I’m disruptive’
In a newspaper interview last week, England right-back Lucy Bronze suggested Aluko needed to be more of a team player if she was to represent England again.
But Aluko, who has “huge respect” for Bronze, says having played for England for 11 years, she “passed the test for the conditions required for an England player”.
“If there are any examples [of bad behaviour], then players need to come out and elaborate what they mean. If there were, I think they would have been raised by now,” she said.
“I’m not encouraging further discord between me and the players, not that I think there is any discord. As far as I’m concerned, last time I was in the team, everything was fine and nobody had any issues.
“So if anybody has any issues, they need to have specific examples, because what I’m not going to have are insinuations or stereotypes or perceptions to almost excuse what I’ve been through, because it doesn’t excuse it.”
‘I apologise for upsetting the players’
Aluko has regrets about things she has said throughout the process, and apologised for criticising the players on Twitter when they ran over to celebrate with Sampson during the game against Russia.
“I think [the celebration] was naive and perhaps wasn’t the best thing to do for the players,” she said. “Some of them may have a special relationship with Mark Sampson and they have every right [to celebrate with him], but I think about the sensitivity at that time, and it wasn’t respectful.
“Saying that, I did upset a few players at the time, and I apologise, I didn’t mean to upset the players in doing that. There are things that, looking back, I maybe should have said or done but ultimately I’m just happy we are clear about the truth and I had no agenda to lie and no interest in lying.
“I didn’t want this to be a public episode. I tried to avoid it as much as I could. One of the reasons I tried to settle in the first place was to avoid it being public and getting players involved.”
‘I don’t need Sampson to apologise’
Sampson was sacked by the FA less than 24 hours after his last game in charge for “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” during his previous job at Bristol Academy.
His departure was a surprise to the players, and came at a time when new evidence was presented to the independent barrister who was investigating Aluko’s racial discrimination claims – evidence which proved decisive.
The Welshman has always denied Aluko’s claim he told her to make sure her Nigerian family did not bring Ebola to the UK, and Chelsea and England midfielder Spence’s allegation he asked her if she had been arrested four times.
Now those claims have been found to be true, Aluko says it is time for Sampson to “show humility” although she said she “didn’t need” an apology from him.
“Whenever somebody messes up, whether it’s me or the other person, I’ve always been taught that humility is one of the most important things to move forward, to be able to apologise; to say actually I was wrong,” she said.
“I have empathy and sympathy with people who can do that. I find it hard to have empathy with people who can’t.
“There has been a lot of denial, deflection, but ultimately there have been proven facts and I hope, if he goes through that process of humility, his future is bright.”
‘Playing for England not a priority right now’
Sampson has been replaced by interim boss Mo Marley, who has said she is open to Aluko rejoining the England team.
Aluko said “playing for England again is not my priority right now” but added she was “open” to being part of the reform process at the FA.
“My happiness is my priority. Playing well and scoring for Chelsea is my priority right now. Judging by the current situation and the sort of division of opinion in it, [the England squad] would be an uncomfortable environment, not just for me but a few other players.
“I’ve achieved a lot and I’ve not retired yet, the door is still open, but I have to be honest and say that it’s not something that would make me comfortable right now. Playing for England is an honour, but it’s not an honour if you are miserable doing it.”
FA chief executive Martin Glenn told the BBC on Sunday that a new grievance and whistle-blowing procedure would be in place by Christmas.
Aluko added: “It would be inconsistent of me to sit here and say I want to be part of the conversation to move things forward and not say I’d be open to that.”