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Top WoSo Moments of 2017: The Downfall of Mark Sampson

Oof, what a mess. After managing the FIFA no. 3 England Women to third place in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, as well as a semi-final appearance in the 2017 European Championship (and a recent 1-0 win over the USWNT in the 2017 SheBelieves Cup), head coach Mark Sampson was accused by striker Eniola Aluko of making racially discriminatory comments in a scandal that uncovered inappropriate conduct with previous players and a possible Football Association cover-up before ultimately leading to Sampson’s removal.

The Daily Mail revealed the initial allegations against Sampson on August 7th of this year, indicating that the England FA did an internal investigation over the summer of 2016 and found no wrong-doing on Sampson’s part. They also reported that Aluko had been paid a settlement and had signed a confidentiality agreement, though insisting that this was merely to avoid disrupting the 2017 Euro campaign. After more information detailing the racial nature of the comments came out (you can read exactly what those were here), the FA made an official statement on August 17th, repeating that they had found “no wrong-doing on behalf of the FA or others”.

{MORE:  See our 2017 WoSo Moments so far}

Understandably, once the public found out about the discord behind the scenes, there was a larger outcry for a new independent investigation into Aluko’s experience, despite continued staunch denials of wrongdoing from both the FA and Sampson himself. Emotions ran high during a World Cup Qualifying match on September 19th, wherein the current England players made a public show of support for their beleaguered manager during a goal celebration that was then tweeted by the Lionesses account and shared on many players’ personal pages.

Originally the players’ support of their coach seemed like part of the official stance of the FA, but it also could’ve been an indicator that they knew what was coming next, as the very next day Sampson was removed from his position leading the Lionesses. However, the forthcoming reasoning behind his removal was not from Aluko’s case against him, but due to Sampson being found to have “overstepped the professional boundaries between player and coach” when he was the manager of Bristol Academy from 2009-2013. Sampson had been found fit to coach the England Women after an investigation into his time at Bristol, but Martin Glenn, the chief executive of the Association, said that he had only recently read the full details of that inquiry.

While it’s a possibility to take Glenn at his word, the entire picture coming into view of Sampson indicates that he had no business running one of the most eminent women’s international teams in the world. After Sampson’s firing, the FA did actually publicly apologize to Aluko and admitted that wrong-doing had occurred, though the details of their alleged dealings show a fair amount of disconcerting intimidation and defensiveness from the entire governing body. And while the FA has presented a stoic front as England continues on their journey towards France in 2019, the job that Sampson left behind is a seemingly impossible role to fill, with coaches like the Utah Royals’ Laura Harvey, North Carolina Courage’s Paul Riley, and the Canada WNT’s John Herdman all taking themselves out of the running.

While the long-term consequences of this saga are yet to fully be felt on the pitch, it also just goes to show the frustrating lack of culpability in power structures in women’s soccer and sports at large, and how systemic ignorance can silence and stall worthy causes towards equality. Eni Aluko and players like her deserve better than this from her FA and her teammates, and the public deserves better from the organizations they support. Here’s to more transparency in 2018.

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