DC United fined for hiring policy noncompliance; Fountas eligible to play after racial slur probe

Major League Soccer said D.C. United midfielder Taxi Fountas is eligible to play for the club during the 2023 season, after an investigation into his possible use of a racial slur during a match was found to be “credible” but unable to be proven.

In a news release Monday, MLS said that the allegation, made by defender Aimé Mabika on Sept. 18 during D.C.’s match against Inter Miami, could not be independently confirmed. However, it said that it did not find Fountas’ claim that he said nothing — discriminatory or otherwise — at the moment of the confrontation to be a credible claim.

“Video of the incident clearly shows Mabika suddenly reacting to something he believed he heard from Fountas,” the statement said.

“MLS was unable to confirm independently, through additional eyewitness accounts, video footage or audio recordings, what Fountas said in that moment, as has been the league’s long-standing practice in determining player discipline for these types of allegations.”

In the 59th minute of that game, Fountas battled with Miami defender Damion Lowe for control of the ball. Once Lowe had passed the ball away, Fountas clipped his ankle, causing the Miami player to react by raising his elbow. Both players began shouting at each other before Lowe — who is Jamaican — walked toward his penalty area.

Following the confrontation, head referee Ismail Elfath stopped the game for a few minutes and spoke to both players. Elfath then spoke to both D.C. United head coach Wayne Rooney and Inter Miami coach Phil Neville. Three minutes later, Elfath gave both players yellow cards. Fountas was subbed out in the 66th minute.

In response to the pool reporter’s questions, Elfath said no official — including the VAR and the AVAR — heard “any racist or abusive language.”

According to MLS, with Fountas “voluntarily remained separated” from the team and not playing in its final two matches, he will be allowed to play for D.C. next season. The league said it plans to examine its polices related to “abusive and discriminatory language” this offseason.

In a response to its ruling, United said it accepts the findings of the investigation, “as well as the conclusion that the act in question could not be confirmed following several interviews that took place with individuals involved and nearby the incident, including those closest to the situation, as well as through an in-depth review of audio and video from multiple broadcast angles.”

Fountas said in a statement, “I am happy to announce that the investigation of the MLS concerning the accusation of racism is finished and closed. No evidence of racist behavior by me. I always respect the culture, religion and every human.”

United said in its response that Fountas was cooperative throughout the investigation.

United fined for not complying with MLS’ diversity hiring policy
British soccer star Wayne Rooney speaks during a press conference where he was announced as the new Head Coach of Major League Soccer’s DC United at Audi Field in Washington, DC, on July 12, 2022. – Former England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney was named on Tuesday as the new head coach of DC United and tasked with reviving the moribund Major League Soccer team. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

In a separate investigation, D.C. United was fined $25,000 for failing to comply with MLS’ Diversity Hiring Policy when looking to fill its vacant head coaching position during the 2022 season.

According to the league, clubs are required to include “two (2) or more candidates from underrepresented groups, whereby at least one (1) candidate must be either Black or African American.”

United met with two candidates who fell under the category but the league said one of those interviews was not deemed to be a finalist for the job. D.C. needed to interview another candidate from an underrepresented group that qualified or request a waiver from the league detailing why it would be unable to follow the policy.

In a statement, D.C. United said the candidate in question accepted the interview request and was asked all the standard questions other finalists received. However, the candidate did not want to accept the job midseason but wanted to join the club in the offseason “in order to implement their system of play.” The candidate was not identified.

“Upon learning this at the conclusion of the interview, the club focused its attention on the remaining finalist candidates for the midseason head coaching opportunity,” D.C. United said.

The league determined that once the team announced Wayne Rooney as its head coach on July 12, they failed to follow the policy, resulting in the fine.

In the past few season, D.C. United has made historic diverse hires, including hiring Danita Johnson as the first Black president of an MLS club and adding Lucy Rushton as its general manager. D.C. said it will respect the league’s decision and findings from the investigation into its hiring process.

Jose Umana

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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