You would need to have had your head in a dune of sand for the last few weeks not to know what it is alleged Mark Clattenburg said to two Chelsea players (allegedly in the hearing of others) on Sunday, 28 October on the occasion of the otherwise docile and uneventful encounter between that club and Manchester United in which he was officiating.
For those who did, however, here it is. Clattenburg was said to have directed comments at two players – John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata. The first was said to have been racist in nature and the second, “aggressive”. Collectively, in a limited press statement, Chelsea described the language allegedly used as “inappropriate”. Subsequently, Chelsea proceeded to a formal complaint only with the first, announcing that the second would not go forward because of “insufficient evidence”. Clattenburg has throughout denied the allegations emphatically. This complaint was the subject of a full FA investigation. The result emerged on 22 November: the referee was cleared. The police were also investigating but they have not pursued this, citing, apparently, an absence of a complainant.
But is this the end of the matter? Or should it be?
There are two aspects. First, the current position of Clattenburg himself. He has graciously issued a statement saying that he now wishes to put all of this behind him and get back to refereeing. But should he? If it is the case that he did not use the words alleged – and it may be that the finding of the investigation might be considered to be sufficient proof of this at least in the first instance – then this could be tantamount to calling him a racist. In other words, he has arguably been defamed. There would doubtless be ‘public interest’ points made in response but the allegations – particularly in the modern (footballing) climate – could be regarded as serious.
Second, have the FA now done enough? Chelsea were precipitate in issuing the statement on the night of the match which they did – indeed, in the joint statement in the aftermath of the investigation conclusion, they expressed their “regret” in having done this. But some might consider this to be something of a club charter – if Chelsea can make these allegations in this way, why can’t we? It might be that the FA should show or have shown some ‘teeth’. It might be that this was an opportunity to at least publicly advise/warn/censure Chelsea that such hasty conduct is not permissible. This was an attack on officialdom and, whilst that has to be allowed or, indeed, encouraged in the right circumstances, there is surely a complementary onus on clubs and players alike to proceed responsibly and fairly. After all, Chelsea did go so far as to mention the effect this plainly had on the referee and his family.