Footballer felt ‘unsupported’ by club after racism during game, tribunal told

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A footballer felt “unsupported” by his club after hearing a fan had shouted racial abuse at him during a game, an employment tribunal has been told.

Rico Quitongo has taken his former club Airdriedonians FC and one of its directors, Paul Hetherington, to the tribunal over allegations of racial discrimination.

The 22-year-old claimed he was racially abused by a fan during a game last year.

The club carried out an investigation into the matter but it was later dropped due to “insufficient evidence”.

An employment tribunal hearing in Glasgow is examining how the case was handled, with Quitongo claiming he was a victim of racial harassment and victimisation.

In his witness statement to the hearing, Quitongo said he was told on the evening of Saturday September 11 last year that someone had overheard an Airdrie fan racially abusing him at the game that day.

He said he felt “upset and disgusted” after listening to a voice message telling him about the racist slur, and the following day he reported the incident to the club.

The footballer said: “I was upset and angry. I should not be going to my work and getting racial abuse.”

In his witness statement, Quitongo said he feels the club should have issued a statement condemning the racist incident, and that by Tuesday September 14 he was upset and agitated about the incident and the club’s “poor response”, which left him feeling “unsupported”.

Mr Maxwell said the club put out a statement on September 15 in which they confirmed investigations into the incident were ongoing and said they will not tolerate racism.

He said: “That would seem like a pretty strong statement, would you agree?”

Quitongo replied: “Yes.”

In October, Quitongo was told he was being placed on two weeks’ leave of absence to help clear his head, and he alleges he was not selected for five games between September 18 and November 6 because of the ongoing situation.

He left Airdrie FC in January this year to move to Peterhead FC, and he now plays for Queen of the South.

In his witness statement, Quitongo told the tribunal the “inadequate handling” of the racist incident caused him considerable stress and upset and left him feeling let down by the club and director.

He said: “Not only did they not support me, but they turned the guns on me, suggesting that I was bringing the club into disrepute by making false allegations.

“This made me feel alone and punished, rather than supported, for trying to raise awareness of issues faced by black people daily.

“I love football and being a professional footballer, but for me, being black and standing up to racism is more important than football.”

The tribunal heard that the club had offered Quitongo the chance to co-operate with them on releasing a statement where a “line would be drawn” under the incident.

He told the hearing he did not want to spend time focusing on the statement and wanted to get back to focusing on his football and did not submit any recommendations for the statement.

Mr Maxwell put it to Quitongo the club’s investigation had been “inconclusive” after they appealed for further witnesses to the incident.

Quitongo agreed that was a reasonable position for the club to take.

The police investigation concluded that racist abuse had taken place during a match between Airdrie and Queens Park in September last year.

Quitongo has backing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the PFA Scotland footballers’ union.

The tribunal continues before Judge David Hoey.

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