The Football Association has confirmed a charge the West Brom forward Jay Rodriguez racially abused Brighton’s Gaëtan Bong has been found “not proven” after an independent regulatory commission hearing.
The striker, who has one England cap, had been accused of using “abusive and/or insulting words which included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race” towards Bong in Albion’s Premier League victory in mid-January. Rodriguez appeared to pinch his nose after the clash between the players and his opponent then spoke to the referee.
In his evidence, Bong had stated he was “100% certain” Rodriguez had said: “You’re black and you stink.” The striker denied what he described as a “false allegation” – he claimed he had instead said “breath fucking stinks” – and requested a personal hearing. The FA duly employed two lip-reading experts to watch slow-motion footage of the incident but concluded they could not help on this “core issue”.
“The player’s mouth was obscured, and neither [expert] could see sufficient to interpret his moving lips,” the FA stated. “After much deliberation we were left in the position where the case distilled to the evidence of each player. We could not say that any of the other evidence or competing arguments lead us to prefer one over the other.”
The FA added that it was “completely satisfied” Bong’s complaint had been “made in absolute good faith” and “there has been no suggestion that this was a malicious or fabricated complaint”.
“A charge of discriminatory misconduct against West Bromwich Albion’s Jay Rodriguez has been found not proven following an independent regulatory commission hearing,” it said. “Having considered all the evidence, the independent regulatory commission determined that on the balance of probabilities the allegation was not proven.
“The FA takes all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and continues to encourage all participants who believe they have been the subject of or witness to discriminatory abuse to report this through the appropriate channels.”
Rodriguez, who would have sustained a minimum five-match ban had he been found guilty, had provided character evidence, in the form of statements and letters, from 11 people at his hearing including his former managers Mauricio Pochettino and Eddie Howe, and sometime team-mates Adam Lallana, Shane Long and Maya Yoshida.
West Brom’s director of football administration, Richard Garlick, attended the hearing. “Everyone at the club is delighted for Jay because this has been a trying period for him,” he said. “He has always maintained his innocence and we are naturally pleased the commission has dismissed the charge.”