Culture, Media and Sport Committee - Racism in FootballWritten evidence submitted by George R M Warner

1. This is a personal submission by George R M Warner.

2. Summary:

The purpose of this submission is to suggest to the Committee that all football clubs should be made aware of their obligations to act in a responsible manner where allegations of racial abuse are concerned.

If football clubs do not act responsibly then players who are the subject of racial abuse may be deterred from reporting such incidents in the future.

For example in the case of the FA’s charge against Luis Suarez Liverpool FC acted irresponsibly following the decision of the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission by publishing a statement, part of which was not true. This led to Patrice Evra, who was the victim, being vilified in some quarters as a wrongdoer.

3. I was pleased to see that you have decided to hold an inquiry into the racism in football and hope that recommendations will be made to improve things.

4. I was particularly concerned with the way Liverpool FC handled the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra situation following the decision of the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission as it appeared that they did nothing to help diffuse the situation and actually made things worse.

5. I think we would all accept that Luis Suarez is not a racist. The FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission which heard the charges against Suarez said so in its written decision as did Patrice Evra. However it seemed to me that Liverpool could have poured some oil on troubled waters, but instead inflamed the situation.

6. Unfortunately when it comes to football in the present day there is entrenched tribalism amongst many supporters, and it does not take much to light the blue touch paper, particularly when such bitter rivals as Liverpool and Manchester United are involved.

7. What most concerned me was the statement that Liverpool published on their website on 20 December last (Document 1—2 pages). This was after the Commission had announced its decision, but before the Commission’s written decision was issued. The statement was extensively referred to in the media and was easily accessible so its contents would have been widely known, and also well known to both Liverpool and Manchester United supporters.

8. In that statement Liverpool said of Evra, “It is also our opinion that the accusation by this player is not credible—certainly no more credible than his prior unfounded accusations.” Liverpool were therefore implying that Evra had made other accusations (ie more than one), the obvious innuendo being that these related to racial abuse, and that they had been found not to be true.

9. As you will appreciate this statement came at the end of a two day hearing before the Commission so those at Liverpool who issued the statement should have known what the correct position was.

10. The Commission published its written decision on 31 December last. Having read what Liverpool had said about Evra’s credibility in their statement on 20 December, I was somewhat surprised when I read the Commission’s written decision and discovered that in paragraph 212 (page 54) (document 2—1 page) the Commission said of Suarez’ QC, “Mr McCormack did not submit that Mr Evra’s evidence should be rejected because he had been shown to be unreliable in making accusations or giving evidence on any other occasions.” As you will appreciate this was totally at odds with what Liverpool had said in their statement about Evra.

11. On 28 January 2012 an article (document 3—3 pages) appeared on the Guardian’s website by Louise Taylor about Evra. In it she said:

“It is hard to imagine that the expected vitriol raining down on the 30-year-old from the stands at Anfield on Saturday will prove remotely as painful. Indeed, those Liverpool fans who cannot forgive the defender for accusing Luis Suárez of racial abuse and maintain, disingenuously, that the case represents a cynical playing of “the race card” are possibly also unaware that, on two previous occasions, Evra declined to support allegations he had been racially abused.”

“During another game against Liverpool, in 2006, two deaf fans, both lip-readers, complained to the police that Evra had been racially insulted by Steve Finnan, Liverpool’s right-back. With Evra declining to become involved in the matter and Finnan vehemently denying such suggestions, video evidence cleared the Republic of Ireland international.”

“Then, in April 2008, the so-called Battle of the Bridge erupted. This time Evra came to blows with Sam Bethell, Chelsea’s head groundsman, as he warmed down after a match at Stamford Bridge. Two members of United’s coaching staff, Mike Phelan and Richard Hartis, alleged that the player had been racially abused, but Bethell successfully rebutted their claims. Once again distancing himself from the furore, Evra declined to cite racist provocation as his defence and ended up being banned for four games and fined £15,000.”

12. Having read this it seemed astonishing that Liverpool should have published what appeared to be an untruth about Evra in their statement on 20 December. In essence Liverpool had pointed the finger at Evra making him a scapegoat after there had been a two day hearing, where Luis Suarez had been represented by a QC, and had an opportunity to put his case to the Commission. Furthermore they did so by publishing something which was apparently not true. I therefore decided to do some research on the internet to see if I could confirm that what Louise Taylor had written in her article about Evra concerning allegations of racial abuse was correct.

13. I discovered an article (document 4—1 page) on the BBC website which confirmed that in 2006 the Greater Manchester Police had investigated a complaint by two deaf people watching television, who thought they had lip read Steve Finnan racially abusing Evra. It was found this was not the case and no action was taken. However, there was no reference to a complaint by Evra himself of racial abuse.

14. I then found a copy of the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission’s written decision dealing with the charge against Evra in 2008 arising out of what Louise Taylor referred to as the “Battle of the Bridge.” in her article. It was on the Daily Telegraph’s website and for some reason some of the written decision is in bold type.

15. Paragraph 25 of the written decision (document 5—1 page) shows there was a discrepancy between the evidence of Mr Griffin (one of Chelsea’s ground staff), Mr Strudwick (Manchester United’s first team fitness coach), and Evra as to how the altercation between Evra and Mr Bethell (another member of Chelsea’s ground staff) came about, and the Commission found “Mr Evra’s account to be exaggerated and unreliable. It is an attempt to justify a physical intervention by him which cannot reasonably be justified.” However, there was no accusation by Evra of racial abuse. In fact in paragraph 54 (document 6) of its decision the Commission stated:

“There is an important point to stress: The allegation of the racist remark is completely irrelevant to the charges against Mr Evra. He has never claimed to have heard any such remark. It follows that he claims no provocation by any racist remark or any justification for his actions as a result of any such remark.”

16. So what Louise Taylor wrote in her article on the Guardian website about Evra not making any accusations of racial abuse until that by Luis Suarez is correct. If I was able to find this out fairly easily by a search of the internet then surely those at Liverpool who published the statement on 20 December should have been well aware of the facts, and as I have said previously there had been a two day hearing before the Commission.

17. It is rather disconcerting that in paragraph 145 (page 39) (document 7—1 page) of its written decision issued on 31 December 2011, the Commission found that “Mr Dalglish said ‘hasn’t he done this before?’”, referring to Evra immediately after the conclusion of the game between Liverpool and Manchester United on 15 October 2011, and that we then see virtually the same allegation about Evra in Liverpool’s statement two months later, but following Commission’s hearing and decision.

18. If football clubs do not act in a responsible manner when there have been allegations of racial abuse then this could well have the effect of deterring players from making justifiable complaints about racial abuse in the future, because as Evra did, they could find themselves vilified in some quarters as a wrongdoer when they are in fact the victims.

February 2012

Prepared 18th September 2012