LONDON(REUTERS) - The Football Association made a public apology to England women's football internationals Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence on Wednesday for discriminatory comments made to them by former manager Mark Sampson.
The apology came in a statement just as a parliamentary inquiry was beginning in London with senior FA officials facing questions over the investigations into Sampson's alleged racism and bullying of Aluko.
Yet the statement also said that an investigation had concluded that Sampson, who was sacked by the FA last month for "inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour" in a previous job, was not racist.
The 35-year-old Sampson denies the allegations and was cleared of discrimination by two inquiries.
"On behalf of The Football Association I would like to sincerely apologise to Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence," the FA's chief executive Martin Glenn said in the statement.
Revealing the findings of independent barrister Katharine Newton's reopened investigation into the claims, Glenn said she had found, after hearing new evidence, that Aluko and Spence had both been subject to discriminatory remarks made by Sampson.
"This is not acceptable," he added. "In her final report Katharine Newton concluded that on two separate occasions Mark Sampson made ill-judged attempts at humour, which as a matter of law were discriminatory on grounds of race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.
"Katharine Newton did however conclude that Mark Sampson was not racist."
The experienced international Aluko had claimed that Sampson had told her to be careful that her Nigerian relatives did not bring the Ebola virus with them when they came to watch a game at Wembley.
Spence, a mixed-race player, alleged that after being called up to the England team in 2015 she was asked by Sampson how many times she had been arrested.
The statement also said that Newton had also concluded "there was no evidence to support the allegations that Eniola Aluko was subjected to 'a course of bullying and discriminatory conduct' by Mark Sampson."
Aluko, who has been capped 102 times for England, has not played since making her claims last year.
The 30-year-old said she had suffered "victimisation" for speaking out about discrimination in the England team set-up.
She received around £80,000 (S$143,000) from the FA, which said the settlement was to avoid the threat of an employment tribunal disrupting the England women's team's preparations for this year's European Championships.
The FA had asked Newton to look at the issues again after complaints that key witnesses had not been interviewed.
"Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed," said the FA statement. "It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken.
"It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner."