How a change in approach could help tackle racism in football – The Jonjo Shelvey case

Published 12 April 2017 By: Lydia Banerjee

Football players shaking hands

In December Newcastle United confirmed[1] that they would not be appealing Jonjo Shelvey’s 5 match ban for an aggravated breach of FA Rule E3(2)

Shelvey was accused of using abusive language to another player coupled with “Arab” or “Arabic”. The reference to ethnic origin, race and/or nationality aggravated the offence. Mr Shelvey claimed that he used the words “smelly breathed prick”, he also claimed that he used them because he had been called abusive terms several times during the game by, he believed, the recipient of his remarks. 

Mr Shelvey suffers from alopecia and is bald as a result. The abuse he said that he had received referred to his baldness. Based on the evidence the panel concluded on the balance of probabilities that Mr Shelvey was guilty of the alleged conduct and he received the mandatory 5 match ban along with a £100,000 fine, a requirement to undertake a face to face mandatory education course and a warning as to future conduct. 

To summarise such a case does not take long but the author have been grappling with what is new about yet another case of such conduct. The case was one of at least 12[2] at which players and coaching staff were disciplined over the calendar year for aggravated breaches of FA rule E3 the vast majority for comments relating to race (all bar two). Mr Shelvey’s case might not be particularly exceptional but it demonstrates that despite a concerted effort to tackle racism in football over many years it remains an issue at all levels of the game. 

The question is what can be said that was not said already in relation to the disputes around John Terry[3] or Mark Clattenburg[4]. What more can we do to rid football, indeed all sport, of racism? 


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Lydia Banerjee

Lydia Banerjee

Lydia is an active member of the Littleton Chambers Sports law group. In line with the broader chambers specialisms Lydia’s core areas of practice are commercial law and employment law.  Lydia’s commercial practice encompasses disputes including contractual interpretation, professional negligence and directors’ duties.  Lydia’s employment work has a particular focus on disability discrimination but also incorporates all areas of tribunal disputes and high court action in relation to bonuses and restrictive covenants.

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