How to eradicate racism in sport

Football clubs across the UK may face substantial damages claims as Gillingham striker Mark McCammon becomes the first to sue his club for race discrimination - in the wake of this landmark tribunal claim FrontRow Legal’s Carly Barnes examines the potential consequences. Barbados International McCammon, 33, claims that he and other black players at Gillingham FC were treated less favourably than white players. He alleges that the League Two club took different stances over punishments handed out for missing training, medical treatment for injuries and pay cuts after relegation from League One. McCammon is suing his former club and its chairman Paul Scally for race discrimination and unfair dismissal. He is seeking substantial damages. His claims will be heard at Ashford Employment Tribunal in Kent later this year. His claims are strongly denied by Gillingham. Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association, revealed he has tried in vain to mediate in the dispute. He said: ‘This is a very unusual case. We had hoped to settle this matter within football but that hasn’t happened on this occasion, so the tribunal will have to resolve it on matters of fact’. It follows high-profile incidents involving Chelsea and England defender John Terry and Liverpool forward Luis Suarez. Former England Captain John Terry is due to stand trial over the summer on charges that he racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. And earlier this month, Luis Suarez was forced to apologise for refusing to shake hands with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra before the teams played at Old Trafford. Suarez had only just returned to action after an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra during a match in October. Carly Barnes warns clubs that ‘there is no limit to the amount of financial loss that can be awarded in a successful discrimination case. Litigation can also involve significant management time and legal costs, which are usually not recoverable.’ But how many clubs have a proper diversity and equal opportunities policy in place to address race discriminaton within their club? And how many act on and implement its contents? The purpose of such a policy is to provide diversity and equality to all employees irrespective of gender, race, ethnic origin, disability, age, nationality, national origin, sexuality, religion or belief, marital status and social class, to prevent all forms of unlawful and unfair discrimination. Any such policy should promote a working environment where all employees are treated fairly and equally; it should be detailed in the club’s company handbook and in player’s contracts, monitored annually and implemented across the whole club. Any breaches of policy should be regarded as misconduct with the potential to lead to discplinary proceedings. Barnes said, ‘Football clubs are employers like any other business and, as such, they are subject to employment law rules and regulations which include the need to implement clear and effective Equal Opportunities Policies.' 'English football leagues are cosmopolitan, with players from all over the world, and yet many clubs are falling behind other industries by failing to create and effectively implement fair equal opportunities policies.' FIFA’s official position is that when a player suffers racist abuse, the matter should be dealt with by the sport rather than the courts but is this an appropriate sanction for an act that can lead to substantial damages in the employment tribunal and criminal charges in court? David Cameron has warned the sport it cannot brush the issue under the carpet. He convened a meeting at 10 Downing Street attended by former England players John Barnes and Graeme le Saux as well as representatives of the Football Association, Premier League, Football League, Professsioanl Footballers Association and League Manager’s Association. The government has given the FA two months to come up with a firm plan of action to tackle issues of discrimination. One such area that should not be overlooked is by clubs themselves who should look to draw up and enforce proper diversity and equality policies from the out-set. Not only will this go some way towards addressing discrimination but it will help avoid a possible flurry of claims as other aggrieved players follow McCammon's lead.

Published February 29, 2012

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