Slow to act for Jonathan Leko, PFA mustn't be slow to learn
Background image: Stephen Craven, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was banned for eight games last Friday and fined £60,000 for being found to have racially abused West Bromwich Albion winger Jonathan Leko, during a game between Leeds United and Charlton Athletic on 28 September. The judgment took a grand total of 22 weeks to reach a conclusion, during which time Casilla continued to play for Leeds. Leko released a statement this week, in which he said that he had ‘minimal contact from the PFA’ and ‘no contact from leading anti-racism bodies’ following the incident, and was ‘made to feel like (he) had done something wrong’ at the hearing.
The PFA responded with a statement of their own, apologising to Leko and claiming that they ‘reached out’ to Charlton to offer the player support, but didn’t get a response from the club so left it at that, admitting that they ‘wrongly assumed that Jonathan did not require our support’. It must be noted that Leko is a member of the PFA, so the organisation had a direct contact for the player; but failed to utilise it effectively.
Charlton manager Lee Bowyer has reflected on the incident this week, telling media that Leko ‘wasn’t himself’ following the incident, and that he ‘was a bit quiet for a while after’. Despite claiming that ‘the group helped him through it’, the club failed to communicate effectively with the PFA, who claim they had reached out to Charlton, to give him the necessary support. The fact that a 20-year-old man who had been racially abused was left without effective support from the PFA following the incident because they assumed that he didn’t need it, is frankly outrageous.
The organisation said that they are ‘grateful for Jonathan’s feedback and will review (their) procedures’. It all seems very corporate and reliant on guidelines, with the personal touch completely lost. They have since organised a meeting with Leko for him to advise them on changes to procedures going forward, but they should not have to rely on a 20-year-old man who they have admitted to have failed, to know how to deal with victims of racism.
So much focus is placed on the attempted prevention of racism by leading anti-racism bodies that not enough attention is given to those who have suffered from it. While the Premier League and FA shovelled money into advertising campaigns to raise awareness, a vulnerable individual was left to deal with the consequences of high-profile abuse himself without support from his union.
However, PFA aside, the time it took for the FA to reach a judgement on the case was just as ridiculous. Leko had to watch Casilla continue to play for 22 weeks after the incident, while the FA collected ‘character statements’ from other professionals who have worked with the goalkeeper to decide whether he is racist or not. Then, when they eventually decided on a ten-match ban, an independent panel decided it was too harsh and must be reduced to eight games, adding more time onto the already lengthy process.
In conclusion, the situation was dealt with poorly by several parties, leaving the player neglected. Leading anti-racism bodies must focus more on the consequences of racism rather than just its prevention, and the PFA must get in touch with their members to ensure their wellbeing on a more personal level rather than solely adhering to guidelines and ‘assuming’. A young footballer was left with insufficient support after suffering racial abuse and these organisations simply cannot let that happen again.