The chairman of the Football Association’s referees committee has been accused of fat-shaming after telling aspiring officials: “There are too many beards, tattoos and beer bellies in this room”.
David Elleray, the former Premier League and Fifa referee and one of the chief architects of Video Assistant Referees, was said to have made the potentially-offensive remark at a meeting of semi-professional officials.
News of it was revealed by Ref Support, a charity committed to the support of referees. Its chief executive, Martin Cassidy, told The Telegraph it had been approached by officials upset by the comment from Elleray, who in 2014 held on to his roles in the game despite allegedly asking a black referee coaching manager: “Have you been down a coal mine?”
Cassidy, a former referee who worked under Elleray at the FA for seven years, said: “With the mental pressures on referees that are already in place, the last thing that they need is to be told that they’re fat.
“We are worried as a charity that pressure that the FA put on some referees might encourage eating disorders because some of them get really obsessed by their fitness.”
Cassidy accused the governing body of double-standards, highlighting its commercial partnerships with fast food companies such as McDonald’s and beer firms like Budweiser.
Alluding to the crisis to have engulfed it over its ongoing links with bookmakers, he added: “If they want to talk about fitness, do partnerships with the brilliant gyms out there, instead of betting companies.”
Elleray did not deny making the comment, writing in an email: “It is quite possible/likely that in the past when talking to young aspiring referees, I have commented on the importance of appearance as there is a general expectation that referees look smart, athletic etc…”
The former housemaster at Harrow School said the remark had possibly been made the summer before last after Cassidy claimed to have been told it was made more recently.
The FA is said to disapprove of referees being tattooed, with Mark Clattenburg reportedly wearing long-sleeve shirts to cover up one he got to commemorate taking charge of the final of the 2012 men’s Olympic football tournament.
He later got two more to celebrate being chosen to officiate the finals of the 2016 European Championship and Champions League, the same year he was selected to oversee the FA Cup final after years of being overlooked.
In 2018, Clattenburg accused Elleray of “a form of bullying” after claiming the latter had said he did not want the official to be one of England’s representatives at Euro 2016.
As technical director of the International Football Association Board, Elleray has been at the forefront of the advent of VAR in the game, as well as to recent changes to its laws.
He was previously one of the country’s most well-known referees but is no stranger to controversy and there were calls for him to resign over the racism scandal.
He escaped serious punishment by the FA but was reprimanded and asked to undertake an equality and diversity training course.
The decision prompted outrage from equality campaigners, who accused it of sweeping the matter under the carpet.
The then chairman of Kick It Out, Lord Ouseley, said: “With David Elleray, there’s been very little information and only a slap on the wrists. If he was guilty of discrimination, he should stand down. You can’t have highly intelligent people in responsible positions going on training courses. It just doesn’t add up.”