Column: Cases of Sheffield Wednesday’s Fernando Forestieri and Sheffield United Women’s Sophie Jones show difficulties in dealing with allegations of racism

The law hears it one way, the FA another.

Thursday, 28th March 2019, 3:26 pm
Updated Monday, 1st April 2019, 5:38 pm
Fernando Forestieri leaves Mansfield Magistrates Court with his partner after his not guilty verdict on Thursday.

One is free to play and the other has quit the game for good.

One innocent, one guilty, what’s the problem, you might ask? But there’s more to the cases of Fernando Forestieri and Sophie Jones.

Former Sheffield United Women’s forward Jones was found guilty of making monkey noises by an FA tribunal and retired from football after being handed a five-match suspension. That, clearly, was her choice, the tribunal did not end her career after she was reported by Spurs centre-back Renée Hector following a game in January.

Wednesday striker Forestieri was found not guilty in a court on charges that he racially abused an opponent and used threatening behaviour.

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These two systems have different standards of proof. In law the prosecution has to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the offence occurred. In the case of an FA hearing a decision is made based ‘on the balance of probability’.

Forestieri may not have heard the last of this case even though he was cleared at Mansfield Magistrates of using racial slurs towards Mansfield Town’s Krystian Pearce in a pre-season fixture. In both cases no other player or official is said to have heard the alleged abuse.

Of course this doesn’t mean that either decision is wrong. But the two players have been judged by different bodies with different standards.

Forestieri’s case could yet be investigated by the FA - according to The Guardian they have already contacted Nottinghamshire police with a view to putting their own case together.

The FA is duty-bound to investigate now the court case is over as part of its commitment to tackling racism. But being proved innocent in the eyes of the law has understandably taken a huge weight off Forestieri and Sheffield Wednesday.

Had Sophie Jones’ case been heard in court before the FA tribunal she might have been more inclined to fight the FA’s five-game ban decision.

The police and the FA need to take allegations of racism seriously.

But Forestieri, Jones and any others accused should be judged on equal terms and by the same standards.

That way we can all see that justice is being done.