The football club which used a player's discrimination claim as a reason to dismiss him should have acted as Chelsea did when their midfielder John Obi Mikel claimed he had been racially abused by the referee Mark Clattenburg, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) said today.
Mark McCammon, whose case was investigated in The Independent, sought his own solicitor to take Gillingham to an industrial tribunal, which found that his allegation of discrimination had not been examined but instead used as a reason to dismiss him.
The PFA chairman, Clarke Carlisle, who believes that Chelsea were wrong to make public the allegation against Clattenburg, cited the west London club's robust response to the Mikel/Clattenburg incident as the way McCammon's claim should have been tackled.
"I find it amazing that Gillingham go through the entire procedure, involving their legal department, and reach the conclusion to sack him for [claiming he had been discriminated against]," said Carlisle, whose organisation has apologised to McCammon after deciding not to take his case to tribunal. "Gillingham need to make themselves aware of the procedure for that. There [was a major] difference between this and the Mark Clattenburg incident. I believe that the Clattenburg incident was dealt with properly – the disclosure to the press aside. It was investigated and a procedure brought. That's what should have happened in the Mark McCammon case."
The PFA is considering bolstering its equality unit as part of the drive to tackle a lack of awareness about discrimination which led to McCammon being sacked for alleging prejudice on the club's part. The size of the players' union's equality operation is one of a number of concerns expressed by black players in the past year. Though the former player Iffy Onuora has been added to the set-up, the unit may be further enhanced.
Carlisle said he is aware of players' concerns about the size both of the PFA equality operation and the investment put into the Kick It Out organisation, which has only five staff to tackle discrimination of all types. "Concerns have been expressed about the size of the [equality] unit and this is being addressed," said Carlisle.
He added that the PFA had faced a dilemma in the case of McCammon, whom it supported through the internal disciplinary procedure at Gillingham. After the club's disciplinary hearing in January resulted in his dismissal, the PFA sought legal opinion about the wisdom of going to industrial tribunal, from the Manchester solicitors George Davies & Co. The advice was that the case should not be pursued. But when McCammon found his own lawyers to take it up for him, serious flaws were discovered in the League Two club's process of dealing with the case. The case centred on the failure to adhere to the process, laid out in the Equality and Human Rights Commission's code of practice, rather than on the reasons for McCammon making his claim of discrimination. If discrimination did take place, he would have had to present his claim within three months.
"There were three junctures in this case when we advised Mark from a financial and career perspective that it would have been in his best interests to move on in his life," Carlisle said. "We've had to question whether sometimes you do just look at the material side of things. We looked at his career and financial position. He was looking at the principle. We can't throw £100,000 at every player who has a claim on a point of principle. But we will have to assess how we respond to that. The principle can be more important."