Celtic have backed Aleksandar Tonev after the winger was suspended for seven matches for using “offensive, insulting and abusive language of a racist nature” against Aberdeen defender Shay Logan.
The 24-year-old Bulgarian, on loan from Aston Villa until the end of the season, was handed the hefty ban at a Scottish Football Association’s disciplinary tribunal hearing at Hampden Park on Thursday for the incident which took place in the Premiership clash between the two teams at Celtic Park on 13 September.
The Parkhead club immediately released a statement on their official website, saying they had accepted Tonev’s claim of innocence and confirming the player will appeal the decision.
A Celtic spokesperson said: “Racism has no place in football and, as a club for all people, Celtic absolutely abhors racism of any kind.
“This was a very unfortunate case, but the club has accepted Aleksandar’s explanation that he did not say the words that were alleged to have been said and that he is not a racist. We are, therefore, very disappointed by the outcome today and can confirm that Aleksandar will be appealing this decision.”
Two years ago, then Celtic manager Neil Lennon stated that any form of racist behaviour at the club was “an instant sackable offence” – a view with which his successor Ronny Deila appears to concur, although he too backed his player.
Speaking at the club’s Lennoxtown training complex before the verdict was announced, the Hoops boss said: “I have spoken to him. He said it was not true and I believe him. Of course we don’t want racism at Celtic – that is the total opposite as what we want to be as a club. That is not acceptable.”
The original hearing date of 9 Octoberwas postponed as Tonev, who joined Villa last summer, was on international duty with Bulgaria.
The former CSKA Sofia and Lech Poznan player was making his belated Celtic debut, after arriving at Parkhead in the summer with a groin injury, when the incident took place. Logan immediately spoke to referee Bobby Madden and skipper Mark Reynolds before informing manager Derek McInnes.
Fourth official Crawford Allan and Celtic were also made aware of the allegation by the Dons management team.
Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) Scotland campaign manager Vicki Burns said: “SRtRC welcome the news that the SFA investigation has now concluded. The length of the ban for Aleksandar Tonev shows how seriously the SFA are taking the issue of racism.
“While it’s always sad to see players banned, the decision is in line with bans in football over recent years for similar incidents and I think this sends out a clear message to players and fans.
“Racism has to be taken seriously and there is no room for racism in Scottish football or society.” – The Guardian