FA statement following formal complaint at Wycombe Wanderers v Fleetwood Town match

Wednesday 23 Sep 2020
FA statement following formal complaint at Wycombe Wanderers v Fleetwood Town match

On 08 July 2020, The FA received a formal complaint from Wycombe Wanderers FC (WWFC) in relation to a potentially discriminatory comment made by a member of Fleetwood Town FC (FTFC) during the clubs’ EFL League One Play-Off Semi-Final second leg on 06 July 2020. It was alleged that the member of FTFC had referred to a WWFC player as a “fat water buffalo”.

No complaint was made to the match officials either during or following the fixture. However, a formal complaint was later made to The FA by WWFC and The FA subsequently commenced an investigation in relation to a potential breach of FA Rule E3(2).

The FA interviewed a number of witnesses, including players and staff from WWFC and FTFC, as well as two match officials. The witness accounts all confirmed the use of the term “water buffalo” or “buffalo”. However, some witnesses did not consider the term to be discriminatory and did not consider it to have been used in a discriminatory manner. Others were unsure whether the term was discriminatory. Some witnesses stated they did consider the term to be discriminatory. The match officials confirmed that they had received no complaint regarding the comment either during or after the game and so the discrimination protocol had not been enacted. Both match officials confirmed that the alleged term had been used. One of which confirmed it was during a dialogue between himself and a member of FTFC during which the member of FTFC was describing the actions of the WWFC player. Both match officials confirmed that they had not interpreted the words to be discriminatory in either nature or context which was why no red card had been issued to the member of FTFC.

The member of FTFC accepted using the alleged words but denied that they were used in a discriminatory context and were instead used to describe the player’s actions. The member of FTFC stated they had been aware that the WWFC player had a nickname of ‘The Beast’ and seen before the game on social media that he had not been able to train and so was potentially out of shape.

In order to prove a breach of FA Rule E3(2), The FA must satisfy a Regulatory Commission of an objective test, also having regard to all the surrounding circumstances. Due to the unusual nature of the alleged words used, in addition to the witness interviews mentioned previously, The FA also commissioned a report from an independent expert in race relations to provide an expert opinion on the words. The expert was provided with all the details of the allegation, as well as the context in which the words were used, and concluded that the words were not objectively racist.

Having considered the witness accounts, the expert’s detailed report, and all of the facts and circumstances of this specific incident, The FA is not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to charge the member of FTFC with a breach of FA Rule E3(2). For the avoidance of doubt, The FA is entirely satisfied that the alleged words were used by the member of FTFC. However, The FA has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to put before a Regulatory Commission to prove that the words amount to a breach of FA Rule E3(2).

This decision was based on the specific circumstances of the reported incident. Whilst on this occasion the words have not been deemed to be discriminatory, The FA understands the offence that has been caused to the WWFC player by their use.

The FA will therefore seek to monitor the use of these words moving forwards and discourage their use given the potential they have to offend. The FA reserves the right to investigate any future incidents where these words have been used, with the view that disciplinary action may be taken based on the individual circumstances of any case.

The FA acknowledges that it takes courage and conviction for any individual to make a formal complaint of discrimination and would like to thank all those involved in this case for coming forward. The FA takes all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously; strongly believes that education is of critical importance in fighting the battle against discrimination, and is committed to continue educating all of its participants to ensure that football is for all.

By FA Staff