Hamza Choudhury: By charging Leicester City star, the FA continue to set a dangerous precedent

Choudury became the third high-profile 15-year-old to have offensive social media posts resurface

Tom Kershaw
Tuesday 07 May 2019 09:19 BST
Gareth Southgate defends Declan Rice ahead of England vs Czech Republic

Hamza Choudhury was 10 years old, playing for Leicester’s academy, when he first experienced racial abuse. The parent of a child on the opposite team had begun shouting insults from the sidelines that he didn’t understand and, after the game, Choudhury’s mother, a Bengali Muslim, took him to the side of the pitch to explain what had happened and why in all likelihood it would again.

The first player of Bangladeshi descent to breakthrough into the Premier League, Choudhury was always aware of the stereotypes which follow him. “There have been other Asian boys in the academy here,” Choudhury said in an interview with The Times. “There was one who lived not far from me who was here until under-14s. Another Asian boy was here for a year or so and then he went to Northampton, I think… but no, there aren’t many.”

Last week, Choudhury was charged with “aggravated misconduct” by the Football Association relating to a racist joke he posted on Twitter when he was 15 years old. “Why are black people so fast,” the tweet in question read. “Because the slow ones are in prison.” But while being a target of racial abuse certainly doesn’t preclude someone from being a perpetrator themselves, it is foolish ground to assume Choudhury is a racist of any degree some six years later.

Choudhury hadn’t taken his GSCEs, his first professional appearance was still a pipe dream and he could not have begun to understand the responsibility he would later hold when he made that tweet in 2013. It doesn’t excuse his action but since resurfacing, Choudhury has shown remorse, issued a statement of public apology and deleted his Twitter account. In short, he is no longer that boy anymore. He is a 21-year-old man mature beyond his years, an endearing character within the Leicester dressing room and a player who has been outspoken in his desire to help set a level playing field.

The FA’s decision then to punish Choudhury retrospectively is a strange and dangerous precedent. Just like the homophobic tweets made by Mason Holgate and Declan Rice’s pro-IRA Instagram comment – also both at 15 - it’s an open floodgate to inspect and scrutinise every publicly aired thought of each young teenager. They make mistakes, particularly on social media. The majority won’t be quite as severe as those already mentioned, but there will be misgivings to be found against everyone to some margin or another; footballer or not.

The decision to charge Choudhury is equally troubling since it comes in wake of the farce over Wayne Hennessey’s exoneration. The 32-year-old Crystal Palace goalkeeper, who appeared to make a Nazi salute in a photo taken by a German teammate during a team dinner, yet mounted a defence based on total ignorance and unfortunate coincidences regarding an inattentive waiter.

Hennessey successfully convinced two members of a three-man panel that he had next to no knowledge of the Nazis, Adolf Hitler and the Second World War, despite it later emerging that he had visited a memorial to its predecessor in Belgium in 2014. History and its ramifications sank into an undocumented blind spot after that point.

Wayne Hennessey escaped punishment after appearing to make a Nazi salute
Wayne Hennessey escaped punishment after appearing to make a Nazi salute (Getty)

Hennessey’s excuse was deemed valid by the FA. Choudhury’s offence – made at half Hennessey’s age - received no such reprieve.

Choudhury’s tweets themselves do not deserve defending, but the FA must acknowledge that something said as an immature, temperamental 15-year-old should be treated as such and help protect players so undeveloped and irresponsible views cannot later be dredged up and cast as a tarnishing brush.

Choudhury has the potential to become an icon of the game for young British-Asian footballers. The FA should leave him to flourish as such. The embarrassment of the whole episode has already served to punish him enough.

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