The FA “fundamentally disagrees” with the findings of an independent panel that decided former Crawley Town manager John Yems “is not a conscious racist”.
The three-person panel – which was convened by the FA after it charged Yems with 16 offences – found he was “not a conscious racist” despite the 63-year-old admitting one charge and being found guilty of 11 others relating to comments that referenced either ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion, belief or gender between 2019 and 2022.
Kick It Out said it was “very hard to understand” the panel’s findings, while Tony Burnett, the organisation’s chief executive, described them as “utterly bizarre”.
The FA is now “actively considering its legal options” because there is so much anger at the decision of the panel, and the language used in its judgement.
In a statement, the FA said: “The FA brought 16 charges of discrimination against John Yems.
“The independent regulatory commission decided on an 18-month ban for the 12 charges which it upheld or was admitted.
“We had requested a longer ban. Based on the evidence presented to the commission, we fundamentally disagree with the independent panel’s finding that this was not a case of conscious racism.”
The FA has the right to appeal the punishment handed to Yems by the panel.
Yems was banned from football for 18 months, which is believed to be the longest punishment ever meted out for the use of discriminatory language, after the panel decided his words were “offensive, racist and Islamophobic”.
The panel concluded that Yems:
- Described Muslim members of the squad as “terrorists”
- Deliberately mispronounced the second half of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name to emphasise the N-word
- Used a racial stereotype to a black player of African origin by asking if he liked jerk chicken
- Told Muslim players “your people blow up stuff with vests”
- Said that an Iraqi youth international at the club “would probably blow up the stadium”
- Repeatedly made comments about another player “carrying a bomb in his bag”
- Called one player a “curry muncher” and asked if the player was unhappy that they did not server “curry pizza”
- Made a remark to one player about “how dark his skin is'” on his return to Crawley after representing Grenada
Sky Sports News has been told the FA, in charging Yems with 16 offences, was seeking a two-year ban. Four allegations were dismissed, including claims that he segregated Crawley players and based his team selections on race.
The panel agreed with Yems’ solicitors that their client was not a racist and neither did he “ever intend to make racist remarks”, adding in their findings: “We regard this as an extremely serious case.
“We have accepted that Mr Yems is not a conscious racist. If he were, an extremely lengthy, even permanent, suspension would be appropriate.
“Nevertheless, Mr Yems’ ‘banter’ undoubtedly came across to the victims and others as offensive, racist and Islamophobic. Mr Yems simply paid no regard to the distress which his misplaced jocularity was causing.”
The FA is understood to be unhappy that the panel chose, in its judgement, to question whether Yems is a “racist”, when the panel’s job was in fact to assess whether racist language had been used.
The panel consisted of black former footballer Tony Agana, experienced lawyer Robert Englehart KC, and Wolves club secretary Matt Wild.
Sky Sports News has spoken to Yems, who is adamant he is not racist and points to the words of the independent panel which stated he “is not a conscious racist”.
Yems admitted that, at the age of 63, he is lacking education and used outdated language.
Burnett: FA conclusion ‘completely and utterly bizarre’
Tony Burnett, the chief executive of Kick It Out, said it was “utterly bizarre” that the panel concluded that Yems was not a “conscious racist” despite revealing a string of offensive racial remarks made by the former Crawley manager.
Burnett told Sky Sports News: “I don’t know John Yems, but unless the FA are channelling some sort of superpower that I’m not aware of, they have no jurisdiction and they’re actually not qualified to assess whether any individual is a racist or not.
“How you can reach a conclusion like that in a case like this is completely beyond me.
“What this says to me in the way this report is structured is that football has a problem with behaviours. Football has a problem in establishing what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, really defining it and really embedding it in the game.”
Yems was initially charged after Crawley players took their complaints to the Professional Footballers’ Association, and Burnett said: “What the PFA have done in supporting these players, and for the players to come forward, is a landmark and it’s a turning point for football.
“But we have to take this turning point really seriously and use it as a baseline to drive appropriate behaviours across the game of football.”
Burnett also called the length of Yems’ suspension into question and asked whether the punishment would have been as lenient in another industry, saying: “If you look at the seriousness of some of these comments, I’ve never heard this level of serious, so-called banter. They’re just offensive and disgusting remarks made in a workplace environment.
“I’ve been involved in this industry for 25 years. In any other walk of life, this would be instant dismissal, but in football – for some reason – we have a different standard for this set of behaviours and we’re trying to interpret whether an individual is racist. I find that completely and utterly bizarre.
“I think the facts are the facts, and the facts we’ve established are that a number of really offensive comments were made to Crawley employees by a senior person in an organisation, and we cannot determine whether that individual is not racist.
“I’m not making that assertion at all, but I certainly know the FA panel haven’t got the power or the insight to determine that either.
“What we can say is the behaviour is appalling and it needs to be dealt with. I’m not sure a suspension until June 2024 is an appropriate sanction for what I’m reading here.”
‘Panel’s view is very hard to understand’
Kick It Out said it was “very hard to understand” how the FA’s independent panel had concluded that Yems was not a conscious racist, adding it would be in touch with the governing body over the issue.
Its statement read: “The discriminatory language outlined in the FA independent report is simply shocking.
“Given the seriousness of the incidents detailed, it is very hard to understand how the FA independent panel have concluded that ‘Mr Yems is not a conscious racist’. We do not share that viewpoint.
“The behaviour outlined in the report must be called out for exactly what it is: racism and Islamophobia.
“To speak plainly, a ban until June 2024 – given the severity of the 11 proven charges – is a slap in the face to the victims of the discriminatory abuse detailed in this report and anyone who has been subject to racism or Islamophobia.
“Furthermore, to reduce his prolonged string of offensive, Islamophobic and racist remarks to simply being ‘misplaced jocularity’ shows a total lack of understanding about the damage that this language can cause or the power dynamics that exist in the game.
“This decision also sets a dangerous precedent by allowing perpetrators to hide behind a ‘banter’ defence when intentionally using harmful and discriminatory language, and we will be in touch with the FA to understand how the panel came to this conclusion.
“We applaud the courage of the victims of this case for coming forward and would encourage anyone involved in the game who sadly find themselves in similar situations to get in touch with us at Kick It Out.”
Bamba: FA must do more
Sol Bamba, the former Cardiff, Leeds and Leicester centre-back, told Sky Sports News that he was “bothered” by the panel’s findings that Yems was not a “conscious racist” and that his comments could be described as “banter”.
“I understand where Kick It Out is coming from because, with the FA being the guardians, you want them to have a strong response when stuff like that happens,” said Bamba.
“You have to think about the victims because, when you play at that sort of level, you’re worried about coming out, reporting those claims and whether that’s going to affect your career. In my opinion, the FA have to do more.
“It bothered me a bit because I saw the comments he made and they were very, very bad. They were racist, in my opinion – there’s no two ways about it.
“So for the FA to say there’s no conscious racism doesn’t sit right with me. The punishment is not good enough.
“The ‘banter’ word bothered me right away because everyone should know those kind of racist comments are not banter. They affect people and shouldn’t be used anymore. It’s as simple as that.”
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