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Adebayo Akinfenwa: Fleetwood Town cleared by FA over Wycombe striker's claims he was repeatedly called 'fat water buffalo'

The FA "entirely satisfied" that the alleged words had been used by a member of Fleetwood, but there was "insufficient evidence" to prove a rules breach

Adebayo Akinfenwa won promotion to the Championship with Wycombe last season
Image: Adebayo Akinfenwa won promotion to the Championship with Wycombe last season

Fleetwood have been cleared of any wrongdoing following an investigation into claims from Wycombe Wanderers striker Adebayo Akinfenwa he was repeatedly called a 'Fat Water Buffalo' during last season's League One play-off semi-final.

Akinfenwa alleged after the match a "representative of the opposition" had made the remark during the second-leg of the play-off tie at Highbury Stadium in July and said at the time it "dehumanises me as a black man".

The FA said it was "entirely satisfied" that the alleged words had been used by a member of Fleetwood, but there was "insufficient evidence" to prove a rules breach.

An FA statement read: "The FA interviewed a number of witnesses, including players and staff from WWFC and FTFC, as well as two match officials.

"The witness accounts all confirmed the use of the term "water buffalo" or "buffalo". However, some witnesses did not consider the term to be discriminatory and did not consider it to have been used in a discriminatory manner.

"Others were unsure whether the term was discriminatory. Some witnesses stated they did consider the term to be discriminatory. The match officials confirmed that they had received no complaint regarding the comment either during or after the game and so the discrimination protocol had not been enacted.

"Both match officials confirmed that the alleged term had been used. One of which confirmed it was during a dialogue between himself and a member of FTFC during which the member of FTFC was describing the actions of the WWFC player.

"Both match officials confirmed that they had not interpreted the words to be discriminatory in either nature or context which was why no red card had been issued to the member of FTFC.

"The member of FTFC accepted using the alleged words but denied that they were used in a discriminatory context and were instead used to describe the player's actions.

"The member of FTFC stated they had been aware that the WWFC player had a nickname of 'The Beast' and seen before the game on social media that he had not been able to train and so was potentially out of shape."

Adebayo Akinfenwa celebrates after Wycombe booked their place in the Championship for next season
Image: Akinfenwa, 38, counts Swansea, Northampton and AFC Wimbledon among his former clubs

Akinfenwa, who has been at Wycombe for the last four years, also said, amid the Black Lives Matter movement, "we as a sport and as society must wake up" as he called for more to be done to tackle racism.

The FA commissioned a report from an independent expert in race relations, who concluded that the words were not "objectively racist".

"This decision was based on the specific circumstances of the reported incident," the FA statement added.

"Whilst on this occasion the words have not been deemed to be discriminatory, The FA understands the offence that has been caused to the WWFC player by their use.

"The FA will therefore seek to monitor the use of these words moving forwards and discourage their use given the potential they have to offend."

Wycombe, who went on to beat Oxford in the play-off final, said in a statement: "The club disagrees with the conclusion of the Football Association (FA). The investigation confirms that the language was used. There is no place in sport for such comments."

Fleetwood said in their own statement: "The club have co-operated fully in regards to the matter and welcome the decision of the FA and in particular the independent expert's conclusion that the employee's comments were not objectively racist.

"As a club we operate a no tolerance approach in regards to discrimination of all kinds and continue to support the EFL's Not Today or Any Day campaign which encourages behavioural and attitude changes at all levels of football."

PFA disappointed with FA outcome

The Professional Footballers' Association [PFA] said it was "disappointed" Akinfenwa's complaint had not been carried forward due to a lack of evidence and would continue to offer its support to the player.

"It is abundantly clear that a white player with a similar stature to Akinfenwa would never be described in the way he was during this incident," a PFA statement said.

"Black people have battled dehumanisation for centuries, and the PFA strongly condemns the use of all disparaging remarks that compare black players to animals.

"This type of hurtful, derogatory language is unacceptable, regardless of intent, and Adebayo showed great courage in coming forward to report this incident, which tarnished what should have been a night of celebration for Wycombe Wanderers."

'People are going to be questioning whether to report anything'

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Emile Heskey says fewer people could complain about racism during football matches because of the FA's decision

Former Liverpool and England striker Emile Heskey also said he was disappointed by the outcome.

"We're still at this place where people are going to questioning whether to report anything," he told Sky Sports News.

"And it's sad when you're a victim of something and you feel what's the point in reporting it and this is where we're going to get to and we're still at... we don't want that.

"This is something that needs to be addressed and sat down and talked about."

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