Ex-Crawley football manager John Yems made terror slurs to Iraqi player Zaid Al-Hussaini

Backlash after Yems banned from the sport for 15 months over 12 counts of racism

Zaid Al-Hussaini was one of the players subjected to racist abuse by John Yems while playing for Crawley Town. Alamy
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Former Crawley Town manager John Yems has been banned from football for 15 months after he made racist comments to five players, including calling Iraqi footballer Zaid Al-Hussaini "a terrorist".

The length of the ban has proved divisive, as groups such as Kick It Out and the team behind the Iraqi Football Podcast believe it to be "very light".

An independent panel heard evidence from the players, who were of ethnic backgrounds, about comments made by their manager Yems, who previously worked in Saudi Arabia.

He called one player a "curry muncher", referred to two as "Zulu warriors", made gestures as if using a blowpipe and accused another of carrying a bomb in his rucksack.

A panel report about the abuse suffered by Al-Hussaini, who currently plays for Maidstone United, revealed Yems had once told him that Allah did not exist.

"[He] is a talented young footballer from Iraq and is Muslim," the commission report said. "He was the butt of several 'jokes' from Mr Yems about being a terrorist.

"He was asked if he slept with an AK-47 and told that he could not have a GPS vest 'because you people blow up stuff in vests' and asked 10 or 15 times if he carried a bomb in his bag.

"On another occasion, when he was saying that he was going to play for Iraq and that England would be beaten, Mr Yems said he would probably blow up the stadium and proclaim 'Allahu akbar'."

The report added: "There was another reference to blowing up the stadium with [the explosive] C4 when he was in the changing room showers early in the 2021/22 season."

Cub chaplain Steve Alliston told the hearing he heard Yems make “jokes” implying that Al-Hussaini, 22, was a suicide bomber.

Yems admitted to one charge and was found guilty of 11 others relating to remarks that referenced ethnic origin, race, colour, nationality, religion, belief or gender between 2019 and 2022.

The Football Association concluded that Yems was “not a conscious racist".

John Yems, former manager of Crawley Town, has been banned from football for racism. Getty

The Iraqi Football Podcast said the FA's conclusion was "disappointing".

"We are deeply disappointed and angered to see the FA taking such a weak stance on a serious matter by labelling Yems as 'not a conscious racist'," the podcast said on Twitter.

"Fans should be made aware of the difficulties young football players from Muslim and ethnic minority backgrounds face in the West."

The FA is now looking into the possibility of a legal challenge against the findings of its own independent panel.

The FA pushed for a two-year suspension for Yems but the independent panel sided with the manager's lawyers, who argued he was not a racist and neither did he “ever intend to make racist remarks”.

“We’ve been clear that we’re unhappy with the sanction and some of the elements of the judgments, and we’re looking into our legal options now," FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said.

Anti-discrimination campaigners Kick It Out issued a strongly-worded statement in response to the commission’s findings.

“The discriminatory language outlined in the FA independent panel report is simply shocking,” the statement read.

“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 15-month ban given the severity of the 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.

“Furthermore, to reduce his prolonged string of offensive, Islamophobic and racist remarks to simply being ‘misplaced jocularity’ shows a total lack of understanding about the damage that this language can cause or the power dynamics that exist in the game.

“This decision also sets a dangerous precedent by allowing perpetrators to hide behind a ‘banter’ defence when intentionally using harmful and discriminatory language and we will be in touch with the FA to understand how the panel came to their conclusion.

“We applaud the courage of the victims of this case for coming forward and would encourage anyone involved in the game who sadly find themselves in similar situations to get in touch with us at Kick It Out.”

Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari felt the contention that Yems was not a conscious racist was an example of “dangerously muddled thinking” which confused motive with intent.

“It seems to offer a ‘get out of jail’ card to reduce sanctions and we expect to hear this kind of defence disingenuously repeated in other cases. It will discourage future whistle-blowers," he said.

“In sport, normal employment practices often seem not to apply. These are young, ambitious people at work and they are entitled to be treated with basic respect and dignity.

“In that context, a ban of 15 months seems very light. That is about the same as an average coach’s sabbatical between jobs.

“If this was another industry, there is a good chance he would lose his career. In my old profession, lawyers have been struck off for lesser behaviour.”

Updated: January 19, 2023, 3:17 PM