It has recently been revealed that Burnley striker Andre Gray posted a number of allegedly sexist, homophobic and derogatory tweets on his Twitter account when he was a non-league player at Hinckley United back in 2012. Having scored his first Premier League goal in Burnley’s 2-0 victory over Liverpool on Saturday 20 August 2016, the limelight has focused more on him and his past, given the undoubtedly greater media coverage he is now attracting, than he did whilst rising the football pyramid in Leicestershire.
However, is Gray guilty of an offence pursuant to the FA Rules, despite his comments being posted over four years ago?
The FA Rules and Social Media
Rule E of the FA’s Rules of the Association sets out when the FA may act against a Player in respect of any “misconduct”, in other words, breach of the plethora of rules which help govern the beautiful game. In particular, Rule E3 (1) states that players “shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour”. The content of Gray’s tweets would prima appear to satisfy these criteria and also may be considered as an ‘aggravated breach’ pursuant to Rule E3 (2) as his tweets referred to “gender… (and) sexual orientation”.
Pursuant to Rule E3 (3), Gray could be punished with an immediate 5 match ban and if the FA find any further aggravating circumstances, may increase the suspension within their discretion. However, since it was only on Twitter and not on the field of play or during a Premier League or club commercial event, it is likely that Rule E3 (4) would apply so that a “Regulatory Commission will not be bound to impose an immediate suspension of at least five matches for a first such breach” and “may impose any sanction that it considers appropriate, taking into account any aggravating or mitigating factors present”.
Rule E3 Precedent
- In 2011, former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was charged pursuant to Rule E3 for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during a Premier League match between their respective teams. An independent Regulatory Commission decided that Suarez was guilty of the majority of the charges. The panel imposed a £40,000 fine, suspension for eight first team matches and warned Suarez as to his future conduct as well as ordering him to pay costs.
- In July 2012, former Arsenal player Emmanuel Frimpong was charged under Rule E3 for improper conduct in relation to comments made on Twitter in response to abuse from a Tottenham fan. He was fined £6,000 by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute.
- In February 2014, former West Bromwich Albion forward and France international Nicolas Anelka was found in aggravated breach of Rule E3 after performing the controversial “quenelle” gesture during a match against West Ham United in the previous December. The quenelle has been considered by many to be an inverted Nazi salute and was created by Anelka’s friend and controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala. Dieudonne had maintained at the time that the quenelle was not anti-Semitic. When banning Anelka for 5 matches and fining him for £80,000 it was interesting to note that the Commission, “did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle”.
The Gray Case
It is unlikely that Gray would be subjected to punishments as onerous as the aforementioned examples. This will likely be due to the timing of his tweets, the fact that he has publically and formally apologised for them and assured the footballing community he no longer holds such views. His club, Burnley has supported Gray’s apology and rejected such behaviour. Gray has also attempted to delete the offending tweets. Consequently, Gray is more likely to be given a written reminder of responsibilities and at most a small fine in the region of several thousand pounds. This will depend largely on what message the FA would like to send to football community of their intention to punish offensive historical tweets whenever those tweets.
Consequently, aspiring premier league players quite apart from tweeting prudently ought now to be revisiting their historic unguarded tweets, just to ensure that any comments that are likely to prove embarrassing in future are removed.