January 7 – An alleged case of racist abuse that led to England’s Professional Footballers’ Association calling for a government inquiry into discrimination has not been proven, prompting concerns that players may refrain from reporting such incidents in the future.
Last month, Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger was allegedly targeted at his club’s 2-0 derby win at Tottenham Hotspur. The referee had to stop play during the second half after the German defender complained of hearing monkey noises.
Tottenham vowed to take the “strongest possible action” against anyone found to have abused Rüdiger but in a surprising development that has caused considerable soul searching, it has emerged there is no evidence to support Rüdiger’s allegations.
A Spurs statement said the club and the Metropolitan Police had “now exhausted all avenues of investigation”.
“We carried out extensive reviews of CCTV images and footage, working with professional lip readers,” Tottenham said. “All materials and reports have now also been reviewed by the police who have carried out their own investigation.
“The police have notified us today that, having reviewed and investigated, they have closed the crime report as they can find no evidence to support the allegation of racial abuse.
“We are fiercely proud of our anti-racism work and our zero tolerance of any form of discrimination. This is one reason why we have attributed so much time and resource to investigating this matter. Had we identified anyone guilty of this we were intent on issuing them with a lifetime ban from our stadium as they would have no place among our proud, diverse fan base. If any new information comes to light, this will be fully investigated.”
While Tottenham were anxious not to be unfairly placed in the spotlight, they nevertheless fully backed Rüdiger’s stance.
“We fully support Antonio Rüdiger with the action that he took. However, there is no evidence to corroborate or contradict the allegation and as such neither ourselves nor the police are in a position to take any further action,” the club added.
Chelsea, whose own fans have in the past been found wanting when it comes to allegations of discrimination, hinted that an incident might still have taken place even if it had not been identified.
“We support Toni Rüdiger totally and unequivocally on this matter, and as Tottenham’s statement makes clear, a lack of evidence does not mean an incident did not take place,” Chelsea said.
The case, one of several in English football this season, has prompted worries that players may in future be deterred from reporting offensive gestures or chanting
“In responding to this incident, we must be very careful about the climate we create for players who experience and report racist behaviour,” Chelsea said. “It is vitally important that we continue to encourage all players to report racist abuse without fear of doubt or reprisal.”
A statement by the Kick It Out anti-discrimination body agreed.
“We are in full support of Antonio Rudiger’s decision to report alleged racist abuse in the crowd against Tottenham Hotspur,” it said.
“We recognise that Tottenham and the Metropolitan Police carried out a thorough investigation, which found no evidence to ‘corroborate or contradict’ Rudiger’s claim.
“There should be absolutely no suggestion that the Chelsea defender acted in bad faith, and everyone in football must ensure players feel confident they will be supported if they decide to speak out.”
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