Stuart Webber: Ex-Norwich sporting director condemned by anti-racism campaign groups over comments

Stuart Webber
Stuart Webber left his role as Norwich's sporting director in November 2023

Anti-racism campaign groups have condemned "disgraceful" comments made by ex-Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber about five black footballers.

Webber said in an interview with the Pink Un the players might have ended up "in jail" or "something else" had they not become professional footballers.

The 39-year-old referred to Raheem Sterling, Abu Kamara, Jonathan Rowe, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis all by name.

Kick It Out's Troy Townsend said the comments were "absolutely disgraceful".

BBC Sport has contacted Webber for comment and understands he has called and messaged the players in question, and their families, to personally apologise.

Webber was speaking to the Pink Un about climbing Mount Everest for the Summit Foundation, a charity he founded with his wife.

The charity says on its website it "aims to create awareness and opportunities for young people to help them achieve their potential".

"We want to help the guys who really need it, not the ones who are maybe privileged. I saw that with our young footballers," said Webber, who was also Liverpool's director of recruitment.

"Jonny Rowe wouldn't mind me saying it but him, Abu Kamara, Max (Aarons), Jamal (Lewis), Raheem (Sterling) back in the day at Liverpool, where they come from it had to work out for them in football, because the alternative is potentially jail or something else."

Townsend, head of development at Kick It Out, told BBC Sport: "A former Norwich City sporting director has just casually racially profiled five professional footballers, including some current and former Norwich players."

In a statement, the body added Webber's comments were "deeply offensive and concerning".

It continued: "To read such callous language being used by someone who until recently was a senior executive at the top of the English game paints a very damning picture.

"Resorting to lazy stereotyping is clearly upsetting for those who have been targeted, but also shows a complete lack of respect for their families, who have played a huge part in the journeys that the players have been on."

Kick It Out said it would also be contacting Norwich City "for their observations".

Ged Grebby, chief executive of anti-racism education charity Show Racism the Red Card, added: "We hold sessions on stereotyping and it sounds like Stuart Webber would benefit from attending one of those courses after making these comments.

"It is a reminder of the challenge that football faces to eradicate institutional racism from the game on the pitch and in the boardroom."

Professional Footballers' Association chair Omar Beckles said Webber's comments are "not a helpful narrative and continues to present the stereotype that the lives of young black men can only find hope as footballers or athletes even".

He added: "My faith encourages me not to condemn but forgive these clumsy remarks, that will overshadow the many examples that dispel this myth of young black men and the great work that football as a whole has worked hard to address."

BBC Sport understands defender Aarons, now at Bournemouth, is angered, frustrated and saddened by the comments.

Striker Kamara, currently on loan at Portsmouth, said he and his family were "deeply saddened and shocked" by the comments.

"You don't have to be a professional athlete to avoid living a life of crime," added the 20-year-old. "You can be whatever you want to be as long as you work hard, believe in yourself and be consistent in what you do."

Aberystwyth-born Webber left his position as Wrexham's head of youth in July 2009 to take up the role at Liverpool, where Chelsea's England forward Sterling played before moving to Manchester City.

In August 2012 he joined QPR as their head of scouting before taking the same position at Wolves between January 2013 and June 2015.

Webber was appointed Huddersfield's director of football in June 2015 before he moved on to the position at Norwich in April 2017.

He departed Carrow Road in November last year after six and a half years with the Canaries, where Aarons and Northern Ireland international full-back Lewis, who left for Newcastle in 2020 and is now on loan at Watford, shone.

Forward Rowe has scored 13 goals for Norwich this season, while Kamara has made three appearances for the club having come up through the youth ranks.