Pointing to a problem far-wider and deep-rooted than the sport’s top leagues, an incident from the Sky Bet Championship last September has returned to the headlines.
West Bromwich Albion’s Jonathan Leko, at the time playing for Charlton Athletic, reported a racist slur from Leeds goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to the match referee in a clash with Leeds last year.
Last week, the FA banned Casilla for eight matches and fined the player £60,000. An improvement on the poor findings in the Rüdiger case, the Casilla ban seems to be a true victory?
Sadly, that’s far from the case. The news breaks in the same week that Daniel Sturridge was suspended from all football and football-related activity worldwide until the middle of June 2020. Found guilty of breaking betting laws after giving his brother inside information on a move to Sevilla in the January 2018 window, the extended sentence builds on an initial two-week ban and a £75,000 fine.
Yes, Sturridge and his family shouldn’t have been acting on the information in such a way, but it throws the FA’s effort to rid the sport of racism into an ugly light.
To ban Casilla only eight weeks and fine £60,000 for a racial slur, yet fine Sturridge £15,000 more and cast him aside from any notion of worldwide football for months over “inside information” is appalling.
The FA may claim to be doing all they can to fight racism, but comparing the two cases shows a clear difference in priorities.
To add insult to injury, the commission looking into the Leko and Casilla case deemed the keeper to be “unaware of the existence” of the racist slur he used. Casilla claimed to only learn the word’s “existence and meaning” a month after the incident, the commission accepting that Casilla “is not a racist” and the language to be “wholly out of character”.
Clearly, the insult used by Casilla is not a niche word he could possibly only come across after months of living in the United Kingdom. It’s almost impossible to believe he managed to shout the word without malicious intent and the fact the FA can consequentially label him not a racist is bewildering.
What’s more, in an official statement released by West Bromwich Albion, Jonathan Leko admitted that he had received no support from the PFA, or “leading anti-racism bodies such as ‘Kick It Out’ and ‘Show Racism The Red Card’”. Leko then went on to say:
“I found the hearing, at which I was made to feel I had done something wrong, extremely stressful. It made me question whether I would be prepared to go through it all again were I on the receiving end of similar abuse in the future. I certainly would think twice about how to advise another player placed in the same situation.”
Tragically, not only is the ruling half-hearted but the current process is deterring further incidents being raised too.
Not enough is being done to stop racism in football – by the FA, PFA or anti-racism groups. More drastic action is needed.