The FA’s investigatory body has, after more than a month, delivered a final verdict on January’s contentious incident between Mason Holgate and Roberto Firmino in the FA Cup that saw the Everton defender report that he had been racially abused by the Liverpool attacker, and that is that Firmino will not be charged over the incident.
“Having considered all of the available evidence, we consider it is not sufficient to raise a charge against Firmino,” read a statement from the FA. “However, we are completely satisfied that the allegation was made in absolute good faith by Holgate and that there is no suggestion of this being an intentionally false or malicious allegation.
“We continue to take all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and would encourage all participants who believe that they have been the subject of or witness to discriminatory abuse to report this. Holgate and Everton followed the proper process by reporting the matter to the match officials at the time and subsequently to The FA.”
An official statement of Firmino’s full innocence, despite that some Liverpool fans might wish it, was never going to be forthcoming. It’s not the job of the FA’s investigatory body to prove a negative—that in this case Firmino said nothing. Their job was to determine if there was evidence that he did say something and to bring charges if necessary.
There was not, and so no charges will be laid, and that—along with their rationale for not laying charges—must suffice. Holgate believed he heard an abusive term and, correctly, reported it. The referee and others did not. Video evidence did not pick it up. Firmino offered an alternative that was supported by linguistic experts based on available video.
As some reported following the incident, it was a misunderstanding. Firmino’s heated words in Brazilian Portuguese sounded, to the English-speaking Holgate, like a racial epithet. He rightly reported the incident and the FA took the time and care to investigate it that we would wish they would were it a Liverpool player reporting an incident.
“The incident was formally reported to the match officials following the fixture and subsequently reported to The FA,” the report continued. “We took statements from a total of 12 players and officials from both teams, the match referee and the fourth official. None of these individuals directly heard the words alleged to have been said by Firmino.
“Firmino was formally interviewed by The FA and provided an alternative account to the words alleged by Holgate. Firmino stated that he had insulted Holgate in Portuguese, but denied categorically using any discriminatory language towards him.
“As part of the investigation, The FA sought the assistance of a Brazilian/Portuguese linguistic specialist on the words alleged. In addition to this, we also obtained multiple angles of video footage, including broadcast and unseen footage showing the incident, which was assessed by two independent Portuguese speaking lip reading experts. The evidence obtained from the experts did not support the allegation.
“We appreciate that this has been a difficult process for both parties, and would like to express our thanks to Mason Holgate and Roberto Firmino as well as both clubs for their assistance, professionalism and full cooperation during this investigation.”