Dear Andrea and the Leeds United management,

I don’t really want to be writing this open letter to you today. As a Leeds fan for nearly thirty years, I want to be basking in the enjoyment that a return to the Premier League after 16 years wandering in the wilderness should entail. But instead, I’m writing to you to indicate my absolute disgust at the fact that, in a game which should be about celebration, the club has made the decision to include Kiko Casilla in the starting XI.

You won’t need me to rehash the details of the FA case that resulted in the eight-match ban that kept Casilla out of the final run-in in which Leeds confirmed their place in the Premier League. At the time, I was disappointed, on reading the findings of the case, at just how poorly the club came across. The whole affair didn’t seem to be treated with the sort of seriousness that this sort of case deserves. In concluding, the FA were also strident in their criticism of the defence launched by Casilla and the club’s role in pursuing it.

For many of us fans, we were disappointed that the club didn’t respond decisively in removing Casilla from the squad and making sure that he never played for the club again. This feeling was heightened by the fact that the long break football underwent due to Coronavirus offered the perfect opportunity to do this discretely and in a way that didn’t distract from on-field goings-on.

Of course, we know the club’s position regarding Casilla: that he strenuously denies the allegations and that the club backs his stance. But that shouldn’t distract that the FA found Casilla guilty of racist abuse on the balance of probability. Some people will emphasise the ‘balance of probability’ of this ruling. But, much as in civil cases, this is the standard of judgement the FA operates under. Had this judgement been given within the context of any other industry than the football industry, that person would have been fired for gross misconduct. The asset-value of footballers shouldn’t change the standard protocol.

It’s one thing to support a player on your books. It’s quite another thing to play him as soon as his ban is over as if nothing happened. Of course, everyone has the right to change their behaviour. However, not everyone has the right to play for our club. And in this instance, it isn’t even clear that there is any contrition from Casilla nor indeed the club themselves.

Since this happened, though, a lot has happened in the world. Most pertinently, the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers reminded us of the great steps that still need to be made in eradicating structural racisms from within society. As fans, we are pleased to see the club making a commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement with players speaking out and taking the knee in solidarity with black oppression the world over.

However, in fielding Kiko Casilla against Derby County, many of us fans are questioning the extent to which this commitment to Black Lives Matter is really anything beyond a hat-tip to a popular position.

Here’s the thing: this is precisely how structural racism unfolds. It is not as easy as to develop a social media strategy in line with the Black Lives Matters movement. It requires introspection, awareness that for the most part we might not recognise racism in its subtle forms, and the willingness to listen to people who do. By siding with Kiko Casilla over Jonathan Leko and Macauley Bonne, what you are saying is that you know better and you aren’t willing to listen to black voices about their oppressions. You are saying Black Lives Matter (except those of Jonathan Leko and Macauley Bonne).

Andrea. You are the owner of this club and have overseen the most significant moment in the club’s recent history. For many fans, this will be enough to earn you plaudits. For many of us, though, some things are more important than on-field success. For many of us, we would much rather be proud of our club off the field as well. Bringing in Marcelo Bielsa has taught many of us to be proud of Leeds United once again. But the club’s behaviour over Kiko Casilla’s racism risks ruining all of this hard work and making the club’s words — and your words — look like empty platitudes.

MOT

Jon Mackenzie

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