Anti-racism groups and England’s Football Association (FA) are denouncing an independent panel’s finding that a British soccer manager who used “offensive, racist and Islamophobic” language is “not a conscious racist.”
Former Crawley Town FC manager John Yems was accused of making at least 16 offensive comments between 2019 and 2022, with each comment including “a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race and/or nationality and/or religion or belief and/or gender,” said the FA, English soccer’s governing body.
An independent Regulatory Commission appointed by the FA investigated and suspended Yems from all football and football-related activity for 18 months up to and including June 1, 2024, for 12 breaches of FA rules, the organization said in a statement on January 6. He had been suspended from coaching duties in April pending the regulatory commission investigation and was let go from the club in May.
Reacting to the independent panel’s findings, the FA said in a statement Wednesday that it was “considering legal options” following the ruling, adding: “We fundamentally disagree with the independent panel’s finding that this was not a case of conscious racism.”
Yems admitted to one comment and denied 15, the FA said. During a hearing, the independent Regulatory Commission found Yems to be guilty of 11 breaches and could not prove the other four, the FA added.
Yems, 62, testified to the panel that he was not a racist. He said that he himself came from “traveling stock” and that his wife is from an immigrant family. He did acknowledge not being careful enough about speaking in a “politically correct manner.”
In its findings, the independent panel said they found “11 of the 15 extant Charges to have been established on the balance of probabilities.”
The report, reviewed by CNN, outlines a number of clearly racist statements by Yems, including slurs and crude stereotypes of Black people, Muslims and people of Caribbean and South Asian origin.
But despite the “offensive, racist and Islamophobic” comments, the panel – led by Robert Englehart KC and including Wolverhampton Wanderers FC general manager of football operations Matt Wild and Tony Agana, a former football player and specialist arbitrator on the FA Claims Panel – found Yems was not a “conscious racist” and did not merit a stronger punishment, such as a permanent suspension.
“We have accepted that Mr Yems is not a conscious racist,” the panel wrote, detailing that they reached this conclusion after reviewing written submissions from both parties. “If he were, an extremely lengthy, even permanent, suspension would be appropriate.
“Nevertheless, Mr Yems’s ‘banter’ undoubtedly came across to the victims and others as offensive, racist and Islamophobic. Mr Yems simply paid no regard to the distress which his misplaced jocularity was causing,” the panel added.
Crawley Town FC and the English Football League declined to comment when contacted by CNN.
CNN has also offered Yems a right of reply via the League Managers Association, the organization which represents English soccer coaches.
‘A slap in the face’
Anti-discrimination group Kick It Out also criticized the panel’s findings, saying in a statement: “The discriminatory language outlined in The FA independent panel report is simply shocking.
“Given the seriousness of the incidents detailed, it is very hard to understand how The FA independent panel have concluded that ‘Mr Yems is not a conscious racist.’ We do not share that viewpoint. The behaviour outlined in the report must be called out for exactly what it is, racism and Islamophobia.
“To speak plainly, a fifteen month ban given the severity of the 11 proven charges is a slap in the face to the victims of the discriminatory abuse detailed in this report and anyone who has been subject to racism or Islamophobia,” they added.
Meanwhile, anti-racism educational group Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) said it was “incredibly disappointed” by the comments highlighted by the report.
“Racism, ‘conscious’ or not, has a deeply damaging impact on the individual,” added the group.
“In addition to the sanctions from the FA, there needs to be robust and extensive anti-racism education training, otherwise the perpetrator will never understand the impact and trauma that the individuals have experienced as a result of their ‘unconscious’ actions,” said SRtRC.
“It is important that at all levels of the game people see that the football family stands united to eradicate racism from the game and wider society.”
The panel noted that Yems reported having participated in two online courses, but said he should still undergo an education program, which it did not detail.