MLS can’t verify Taxi Fountas used slur; calls allegation ‘credible’

Note

D.C. United star Taxi Fountas will not face discipline from MLS after a league investigation found no conclusive evidence that he directed a racial slur at an opponent during a Sept. 18 game at Audi Field.

The league said Monday that Miami defender Aimé Mabika’s allegation is “credible” but that it cannot “definitely confirm” it. MLS also said it could not find credible “Fountas’ claim that he did nothing at the time – discriminatory or otherwise. Video of the incident clearly shows Mabika suddenly reacting to something he believed he heard from Fountas.

As part of the investigation, the league interviewed several people and reviewed video footage and audio recordings, but could not determine “what Fountas said at that moment.”

Mabika accused Fountas of using the N-word during an incident with Damion Lowe in the second half. Lowe, who is Jamaican, and Mabika, who is Zambian, are black. Fontas, which is Greek, is white.

Miami refused to resume play unless Fountas was removed from the game. United coach Wayne Rooney obliged.

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“I did not use the word I am accused of using,” Fountas wrote in an Instagram post a day later. “The despicable racial slur is one that I condemn and do not use. We had a heated discussion on the field. But I did not advise anyone with rationalizations. I firmly reject racism in any form. It is despicable.”

Referee Ismail Elfat told a pool reporter at the time that no official had heard racist or obscene language and that none had been identified by video review.

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As previously scheduled, Fountas then traveled to Greece to play twice for his national team. He was due to return stateside for the final two MLS games of the season, but citing the pressure of the situation on Fountas and his family, Rooney granted him yet another release.

Fountas, United’s lone All-Star selection, is under contract through the 2024 season. This year, he has a team-high 12 goals and added three assists in 21 appearances.

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In a statement, United officials said they “appreciate and accept the findings of the league’s investigation, as well as the conclusion that the act in question cannot be confirmed after several interviews that took place with people involved and nearby the incident.”

MLS interviewed Fountas at least twice, people familiar with the probe said, and contacted Christian Benteke and United’s Ravel Morrison, who are black. Both were on the field at the time of the incident. Several Miami players were also interviewed.

Fountas was not available for comment Monday, but a person who spoke to him said the player was “relieved and eager to get back.” Miami officials did not immediately comment.

MLS said it will re-examine its policies and practices related to allegations of abuse and discriminatory language.

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In a separate investigation, MLS announced it had fined United $25,000 for violating the league’s diversity hiring policy before the club appointed Rooney in July. A first offense carries a fine of up to $50,000.

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As part of updated guidelines established in December, teams are required to interview at least two candidates from underrepresented groups, including one black candidate, for jobs on the technical staff, such as coach and general manager. (Previous rules mandated one candidate from each group.)

Starting with a list of at least five candidates, United spoke to a black and a Latino coach — both from abroad, a person close to the situation said — but one of those conversations “couldn’t be considered a ‘finalist pool’ interview, “, said the league.

One candidate, United said in a statement, went through the same process as the others. However, the club added, he then told team officials that he would not be interested in a job that began mid-season.

“Knowing this, the club has focused its attention on the remaining finalist candidates,” United said.

The league, however, said United remained obligated to bring an additional candidate from an under-represented group into the ‘finalist pool’ or request a waiver from MLS detailing the extenuating circumstances that would not allow them to do so.



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