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Footballer felt ‘unsupported’ after racism during game, tribunal told

Rico Quitongo has taken his former club Airdrie FC and one of its directors to an employment tribunal.

Footballer Rico Quitongo felt ‘unsupported’ by club Airdrie FC after racism during game, tribunal told PA Media
The player has launched legal action against Airdrie FC.

A footballer felt “unsupported” by his club after hearing a fan had shouted racial abuse at him during a game, an employment tribunal has been told.

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

The 22-year-old claimed he was racially abused by a fan during a game last year.

The club carried out an investigation into the matter but it was later dropped due to “insufficient evidence”.

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

In his witness statement to the hearing, Quitongo said he was told on the evening of Saturday September 11 last year that someone had overheard an Airdrie fan racially abusing him at the game that day.

He said he felt “upset and disgusted” after listening to a voice message telling him about the racist slur, and the following day he reported the incident to the club.

During cross-examination on Thursday, lawyer Andrew Maxwell, representing the club and Mr Hetherington, asked Quitongo how he felt after hearing of the abuse.

The footballer said: “I was upset and angry. I should not be going to my work and getting racial abuse.”

In his witness statement, Quitongo said he feels the club should have issued a statement condemning the racist incident, and that by Tuesday September 14 he was upset and agitated about the incident and the club’s “poor response”, which left him feeling “unsupported”.

Mr Maxwell said the club put out a statement on September 15 in which they confirmed investigations into the incident were ongoing and said they will not tolerate racism.

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

Quitongo replied: “Yes.”

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.

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

In his witness statement, Quitongo told the tribunal the “inadequate handling” of the racist incident caused him considerable stress and upset and left him feeling let down by the club and director.

He said: “Not only did they not support me, but they turned the guns on me, suggesting that I was bringing the club into disrepute by making false allegations.

“This made me feel alone and punished, rather than supported, for trying to raise awareness of issues faced by black people daily.

“I love football and being a professional footballer, but for me, being black and standing up to racism is more important than football.”

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

The tribunal, before judge David Hoey, continues.