A Football Association-commissioned investigation into its own referees’ department has found “no first-hand evidence” to prove allegations of wrongdoing, but has acknowledged that many witnesses did not feel comfortable speaking out and that a “reset” was needed.
The independent investigation, conducted by an external solicitor, looked at allegations that a complaint about the FA referees’ department chairman David Elleray in 2014 was not properly followed up at the time, thus failing to trigger a formal process. Telegraph Sport understands that no further action will be taken against Elleray, the most powerful man in English refereeing, who will stand down at the end of the season.
Elleray, who now lives in South Africa, will be replaced in the summer after a rule of more than 15 years over which he has been the key figure in the development of referees, and in selecting those who make the step up from the non- league game into the Football League and ultimately the Premier League. It has also been Elleray who nominated those referees and assistants who got the opportunity to take charge of Uefa competition games and go to World Cup finals.
The investigation, conducted by the solicitor Leigh Barnett of the legal firm Parker Bullen, found that there was no evidence that a formal complaint was made about Elleray for a ‘racially-charged’ comment in 2014. He has never disputed saying to a black referee coach, Rob McCarthy, at a conference at St George’s Park words to the effect of, “You look rather tanned, have you been down a coal mine?”
The investigation was launched to determine whether the correct process was followed at the time. It was alleged by sources speaking to Telegraph Sport that a formal complaint was indeed made to senior members of the referees’ department which would have changed the way it was handled. Instead, the incident in 2014 was dealt with by the FA’s human resources department. Elleray was treated as an FA employee – which, as a FA Council member, he is not – and directed to undertake a diversity training course
Barnett also could not find first-hand evidence for other disparaging comments Elleray was alleged to have made. Nevertheless, Elleray’s career as the most powerful man in refereeing at the FA is now over and the FA is embarking on what those familiar with the report have described as a “cultural reset” in the referee department.
There was also concern at the FA that many witnesses did not feel comfortable speaking to Barnett about their experiences with the referees’ department. The FA will now seek to change the working culture of the department. Telegraph Sport has spoken to former referees’ department staff who said Elleray spoke to them in disparaging terms, including one woman to whom he referred as the “old bag”, and later, “the OB”.
Another former referee’s department employee who suffered from a genetic eye disorder that required time away from work, and who is now classified as legally blind, allegedly Elleray made light of his condition.
The FA now considers the investigation into the 2014 episode around Elleray and any other historic allegations about the referees’ department to be closed. It is not clear whether the governing body will make public the findings of Barnett’s independent investigation.
In a statement the independent charity working on behalf of match officials, Ref Support UK said that the reluctance of witnesses to come forward should be “of great concern to the FA and football authorities.”