Tony Burnett, the chief executive of Kick It Out, says it is “utterly bizarre” that an FA independent panel concluded that John Yems was not a “conscious racist” despite revealing a string of offensive racial remarks made by the former Crawley Town manager.
Yems has been banned from football for 15 months after 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.
The FA pushed for a two-year suspension, but the panel agreed with Yems’ solicitors that he was not a racist and did not “intend to make racist remarks”.
Kick It Out says it will be seeking answers from the FA over how the panel reached its conclusion, while 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 by the FA over 16 alleged comments 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 15-month suspension 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.
The panel was made up of Robert Englehart KC, Wolves’ club secretary Matt Wild, and former Sheffield United and Notts County striker Tony Agana, with the FA saying in its 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.”
However, Kick It Out said it does not share the findings of the panel, which it described as creating a “dangerous precedent”.
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 15-month ban – 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.”
Sky Sports News contacted the FA for comment and asked the governing body for an interview, to clarify the conclusion reached by its panel. The FA has said it will not be making further comment at this stage.
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