Footballer accuses club of attempting to 'manipulate racism claim'

Former Airdrie player Rico Quitongo said club bosses tried to persuade him into denying he suffered abuse from one of their own fans.

Footballer Rico Quitongo accuses Airdrie of attempting to ‘manipulate racism claim’ SNS Group

A footballer felt his club was trying to manipulate him into saying he did not suffer racist abuse from one of its fans, an employment tribunal has heard.

Rico Quitongo has taken his former club Airdrieonians FC and one of its directors, Paul Hetherington, to the tribunal over allegations of racial discrimination.

The 22-year-old said he was racially abused by a fan during a game last year. The club said it carried out an investigation into the matter but it was dropped due to “insufficient evidence”.

In a meeting with club officials, which included Mr Hetherington, Quitongo said he was told about this and that it was felt the incident did not happen.

Mark Allison, representing Quitongo, asked him how he felt “as a young black footballer asserting you were racially abused” when he was told by “middle-aged white man” the incident had not occurred.

Quitongo told the tribunal: “It made me feel I was trying to be manipulated in joining him in saying it didn’t happen.”

He said the others in the room would not know how it felt to be in his position, and he added: “I just felt uncomfortable.”

The employment tribunal in Glasgow is examining how the case was handled, with Quitongo claiming he was a victim of racial harassment and victimisation.

Quitongo told the hearing that had the club put out a strong statement about the abuse he said he suffered: “I would have felt supported and backed.”

The footballer told the tribunal of the impact the following process has had on him and how he has been portrayed in the public eye.

A mental health expert who he consulted said he had appeared “vulnerable and let down by his workplace at the time”, and added his mental state had worsened due to the tribunal.

The hearing was told the incident itself and the aftermath had also harmed the footballer’s mental health.

In October, Quitongo was told he was being placed on two weeks’ leave of absence to help clear his head, and he alleges he was not selected for five games between September 18 and November 6 because of the ongoing situation.

Andrew Maxwell, representing the club, has told the tribunal that bosses had concerns about his mental state at the time.

The tribunal also heard the club was told of claims he had been involved in drug dealing by two members of the public, which Quitongo agreed with Mr Maxwell needed proper investigation due to their serious nature.

But Mr Allison told the hearing there had been no investigation into the matter, and Quitongo had not been interviewed and nor had anyone else.

Mr Maxwell previously told the inquiry of a statement the club made on September 15 in which it confirmed investigations into the incident were ongoing and said it will not tolerate racism.

He said: “That would seem like a pretty strong statement, would you agree?”

Quitongo replied: “Yes.”

A police investigation concluded racist abuse had taken place during a match between Airdrie and Queens Park in September last year.

Quitongo has backing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the PFA Scotland footballers’ union.

He left Airdrie FC in January this year to move to Peterhead FC, and he now plays for Queen of the South.

The tribunal continues before Judge Hoey.

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