Roberto Firmino cleared by FA over Mason Holgate racism allegations

Guardian sport on 21 February 2018

The Football Association has exonerated Roberto Firmino of racially abusing the Everton defender Mason Holgate following a lengthy investigation into the Liverpool striker’s conduct during the FA Cup tie between the Merseyside rivals at Anfield.

Holgate accused Firmino of using what the FA described as a “discriminatory term” when the pair clashed in Liverpool’s third-round victory on 5 January. The FA opened an investigation the following day and almost seven weeks later – having interviewed 12 players, the referee Bobby Madley, the fourth official Jon Moss and consulted two Portuguese lip-reading experts – announced on Wednesday that there is insufficient evidence to charge the Brazil international with any offence.

In a statement, the FA said it was satisfied that “the allegation was made in absolute good faith by Holgate and that there is no suggestion of this being an intentionally false or malicious allegation”. But it found no evidence, either through witness statements or consulting unseen footage of the row that erupted after Holgate had pushed Firmino over the advertising hoardings, to support the Everton defender’s claim that he had been racially abused.

The FA added: “We took statements from a total of 12 players and officials from both teams, the match referee and the fourth official. None of these individuals directly heard the words alleged to have been said by Firmino. Firmino was formally interviewed by the FA and provided an alternative account to the words alleged by Holgate. Firmino stated that he had insulted the defender in Portuguese, but denied categorically using any discriminatory language towards him.

“As part of the investigation, the FA sought the assistance of a Brazilian/Portuguese linguistic specialist on the words alleged. In addition to this, we also obtained multiple angles of video footage, including broadcast and unseen footage showing the incident, which was assessed by two independent Portuguese-speaking lip-reading experts. The evidence obtained from the experts did not support the allegation.”

Firmino said after the FA’s verdict that it had been difficult to remain publicly silent “given the serious and damaging nature of what it was claimed I said”, but was pleased to have been cleared of any wrongdoing. “As someone who has experienced racist abuse during my life, I know how damaging and hurtful it can be,” the Liverpool forward said.

“Now the process is concluded I would like to place on record, for the avoidance of any doubt, I did not say the word, or a variation of the word, that was claimed and subsequently reported in the media. I did not use any language that referenced race. I did not – and would never – reference a person’s skin colour or culture, by means of insult, during a dispute or an argument. There is no place for discrimination on a football pitch, or anywhere else in life for that matter. I am pleased after exhaustive reviews of all the evidence, in this specific incident, the matter is resolved.”

Liverpool thanked Firmino for “the manner in which he has conducted himself during this difficult process, acknowledging that being subjected to such a serious allegation for this length of time has been hurtful to him and his family”, adding: “Both the club and player were in full agreement from the beginning that if an investigation was required it should be a thorough and robust one.

“Roberto has cooperated fully with the process and shown a willingness to engage and assist throughout, with the only objective being to discover the truth of what happened. We are satisfied that the outcome of the process has exonerated the player of using any racist or discriminatory language.”

Everton said in a statement that they accepted the FA’s decision and appreciated the thoroughness of an investigation conducted “in challenging circumstances”. It added: “The club welcomes the FA’s expression of complete satisfaction that the allegation made by our player, Mason Holgate, was done so in absolute good faith, that proper process was followed and that there is no suggestion of malice or dishonesty on Mason’s part.”

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