Earlier in the season in a Premier League game between West Brom and Brighton, Gaetan Bong claimed he was racially abused by Jay Rodriquez, and earlier this month (April 2018) The FA said the charge against Mr Rodriquez was not proven.
To clarify, as there seems much confusion over what this verdict means; Not Proven is one of two verdicts available to the Independent Disciplinary Panel appointed by the FA but not in English criminal courts. The Panel case may end in one of two verdicts:
1. Proven (guilty),
2. Not Proven (the panel doesn’t have to be convinced that the suspect is innocent, but guilt has not been proven “in the balance of probabilities”)
The complaint was taken up by the FA and as a result the case was between the FA and Mr Rodriquez to be assessed by an independent panel. Therefore as the report states: “It was common ground between the parties that the burden of proving the allegation rests upon the FA.”
Given the evidence shown in the FA report a predictable verdict of Not Proven was found, but if you read the report it’s a verdict that neither party, I expect, really welcome. In Scotland Not Proven is used in criminal courts as a third alternative to Innocent or Guilty and has its criticism. Because the “not proven” verdict carries with it an implication of guilt but no formal conviction, the accused is often seen as morally guilty without the option of a retrial to clear their name. It is important to therefore to state that this is not the intention of the law, but to purely give the option of not “guilty” or “acquitted” due to a lack of evidence.
The Panel explained its verdict by saying the “essential issue for us boiled down to one question – are we satisfied the player (Rodriquez) probably said to Gaetan Bong: “You’re black and you stink’? The FA discussed the evidence for which it was basing its verdict. It said the two lip reading experts “could not help” as “The player’s mouth was obscured, and neither could see sufficient to interpret his moving lips”.
Ultimately the FA therefore didn’t have enough evident to find Mr Rodriquez guilty. “After much deliberation we were left in the position where the case distilled to the evidence of each player. We could not say that any of the other evidence or competing arguments lead us to prefer one over the other.”
It is important here to state that the FA report stated the panel were “completely satisfied” that Gaetan Bong’s complaint “was made in absolute good faith” that “it was right that they did so” and “Rightly, no one suggested this was a malicious complaint nor that Mr Bong was lying.”
This is where my opinion comes in. Full disclosure, I’m a Brighton fan, so somewhat biased of course. But I think it’s important to not let your loyalty to your club cloud your judgement and I have done my best to do so by stating the reports findings objectively first. But subsequent to this verdict, on social media and at matches, Mr Gaetan Bong has received a great deal of abuse for bringing forward his claim. Most notably when Brighton travelled to Mr Rodriquez’s former club Burnley at the weekend.
A lot of this this abuse seems to be aimed at Gaetan Bong’s most recent statement where he stated that: “I am certain of what I heard on the field.” Mr Rodriquez’s representatives however stated on his behalf: “Jay never said anything racist”. It’s important to state here that whilst both may be justified in their views, based on the panels findings neither can be stated as a fact as neither was Bong’s claim proven nor was the panel able concur with Rodriquez’s story of events. It’s also worthwhile stating that both have said since the investigation they want to move on from this unfortunate incident that has no doubt been an ordeal for both, which would appear best option for all.
However what happened on Saturday brought up the whole sorry affair again, due to a significant group of Burnley supporters putting their loyalty to their club ahead of the facts. This is why many, including Brighton manager Chris Hughton, have called out the Burnley fans who booed Bong constantly throughout yesterday game. Hughton himself described it as shameful, for which I agree.
As the FA said it “takes all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and continues to encourage all participants who believe they have been the subject of or witness to discriminatory abuse to report this through the appropriate channels”. Any vilifying of Mr Bong will discourage others to come forward who experience discrimination. In the same way as vilifying Mr Rodriquez for a charge that wasn’t proven would be wrong and make others fear of being vilified for an unproven claim against them.
Ultimately due to the lack of evidence, we don’t know what was said. Either way, vilifying either party is abhorrent shameful behaviour, the kind of which that as a society we should condemn.