Tottenham may not have found any evidence to support Antonio Rudiger’s racism accusations, but we can’t let this discourage anyone from reporting similar incidents in the future…
Tottenham announced on Monday evening that an investigation into an allegation of racial abuse by Antonio Rudiger, at their game against Chelsea in December, had discovered no clear evidence of any one individual committing an offence.
As such, no further action is being taken. How could it? You need someone to take action against, and if no individual can be identified, alas there isn’t much anyone can do. Tottenham did however take the responsible step of including mention in their statement that they “fully support Antonio Rudiger with the action that he took.”
But the crucial line came in Chelsea’s response: “We support Toni Rudiger totally and unequivocally on this matter, and as Tottenham’s statement makes clear, a lack of evidence does not mean an incident did not take place.”
It’s vital on any number of levels that we take heed of that last bit, because going by the responses to Tottenham’s announcement (with the caveat that judging anything by Twitter responses can be dicey), there are still plenty of people who do think that Rudiger simply made all of this up.
There was no reason for Rudiger to invent this allegation. He stopped in the middle of a Premier League game, against one of his team’s fiercest rivals, in which Chelsea were defending a 2-0 lead, to report it. What exactly would he have to gain by breaking his own concentration in that way? Rudiger wants to win for the team he’s played for in the last three seasons, but any Spurs fan who thinks he was aiming to get one over on them by trying to make one of their fans look like a racist, probably overestimates their importance in Rudiger’s head.
Demands for apologies have come following Monday’s announcements, aimed in various directions, but mainly at Rudiger and some parts of the media. None of which is particularly constructive.
A slightly clumsily-worded statement by the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust, released a few days ago, wasn’t enormously helpful: they didn’t say the incident was a figment of Rudiger’s imagination, but they did put out a statement which included the line: ‘Either there was racist abuse, or there wasn’t. If racist abuse occurred, the perpetrators must be punished. If none occurred, the reputation of Tottenham Hotspur fans must be cleared.’
This isn’t a binary thing. Those aren’t the two options available, as both clubs have made clear. If racist abuse occurred and a perpetrator could be identified, they must be punished. If no perpetrator can be identified, this isn’t a slur on the reputation of Tottenham Hotspur fans. They cannot be ‘cleared’, as it hasn’t been proven the incident didn’t take place. If there remains a lingering suggestion that one Tottenham fan might have racially abused someone, the wider fanbase will just have to live with that.
We support Toni Rudiger totally and unequivocally on this matter, and as Tottenham's statement makes clear, a lack of evidence doesn not mean an incident did not take place.
Rudiger could have been outright abused, vocally. He could have misheard something. He could have misinterpreted something. He could have seen someone make monkey gestures at him, or what he thought were monkey gestures. There could have been some form of abuse but nobody other than Rudiger saw or heard it. Someone could have heard it, but felt discouraged from speaking out.
And that’s dangerous, because one of the most important elements of this is how it could impact on similar incidents in the future. Society in general, but football specifically in this case must enthusiastically encourage anyone who has the need, to report incidents of racial abuse. Anyone who believes this ‘not proven’ outcome means the incident did not happen, and then goes on to attack those involved, is part of the problem.
In the future, anyone who hears any form of racial abuse must believe that if they report it, it will not only be investigated thoroughly, but also that they won’t be attacked or discouraged throughout the process either.
I’ve seen it suggested that the incident couldn’t have taken place because Spurs are a proud anti-racist club and fans would self-police any such abuse that comes from their number. Perhaps. But during the Bournemouth game at White Hart Lane back in November, a spectator near the press box made several racist comments which were greeted by silence from those around him: on that occasion a journalist went to report the incident, only to discover it was being dealt with quietly and efficiently by a member of the Spurs media team and the stewards, and the man was ejected. Individual Spurs fans might not have heard such abuse in their time following the team, but that doesn’t mean it can’t and does not happen.
This is not an attack on the wider Spurs fanbase, who themselves have spent far too long dealing with prejudice over the years. But it’s more a plea to make sure that Antonio Rudiger is not treated as a liar, and that further incidents and victims are not negatively affected.
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