Santalab free to play as abuse accusation dismissed

FOOTBALL

The tension between cross-town rivals Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers continues to simmer after Wollongong junior Brendon Santalab was on Thursday cleared of racial abuse.

A FFA disciplinary committee dropped the charge, coming out of the last Sydney derby, due to insufficient evidence to support claims made by Sydney FC player Ali Abbas.

Sydney FC chief executive officer Tony Pignata expressed the club's disappointment.

"Sydney FC and Ali Abbas are extremely disappointed with the decision of the independent FFA disciplinary committee," Pignata said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.

"Ali stands by the comments he made after the game and Sydney FC fully support him in this.

"We would like to reiterate that we believe racial vilification has no place in football or in society.

"The last few weeks have been very testing times for Ali through which he has shown great strength of character and continued to perform to his best."

Santalab was not proven to have abused Abbas on the grounds of race, religion and culture as alleged in the aftermath of the March 8 Sydney A-League derby and escaped any sanction.

The independent disciplinary committee could not find any grounds to prove allegations against Santalab due to a lack of witnesses, evidence and the potential that his comments may have been misconstrued due to the noise from the crowd at Allianz Stadium.

The disciplinary committee met with Santalab, Abbas, their legal representatives and officials from both clubs for over 11 hours across two marathon meetings but said there was a lack of proof against Santalab.

They released the following findings in an official statement:

■ That Brendon Santalab accepted Ali Abbas genuinely believed that the offensive word had been used and did not challenge the fact that Ali Abbas believed he had been the subject of racial abuse;

■ The credibility of Ali Abbas was not under challenge;

■ Having regard to the circumstances surrounding the incident particularly the undisputed high noise levels and in the absence of other eyewitness or corroborative evidence, it was possible that Ali Abbas may have misheard what was said by Brendon Santalab;

■ Therefore the committee was not satisfied to the necessary standard of proof that the offending words were used by Brendon Santalab and dismissed the matter.

Pignata said that the player's focus was on helping the Sky Blues reach the A-League finals with a win over Perth on Sunday.

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