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Football commentator Ismayil Abdullayev of Azerbaijani state-run TV channel Idman Azerbaijan has been suspended for one month because of a racist remark he made about Chelsea player N'Golo Kante.
Abdullayev announced his suspension on 17 August on Instagram, adding that he did not know if he would return to air or not. He said he was still allowed to read the news.
The 11 August Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea was broadcasted live on Idman Azerbaijan (‘sports Azerbaijan’), a branch of state-controlled television company AzTv. Abdullayev and his colleague Tarlan Shahinoglu provided commentary for the match.
Commenting on the performance of Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who is black, Shahinoglu said that ‘Kante moved back, put himself in the line of fire but didn't get burnt’. Abdullayev replied to this that ‘even if he got burnt, there would be no difference in his colour’.
[Read about racism in Georgian football: UEFA penalises FC Dinamo fans for ‘racist behaviour’]
‘Unprofessional, prejudiced, and irritating comments’
Following the match, the Chelsea fan club in Azerbaijan published a statement on Facebook condemning the coverage of the match by Idman Azerbaijan.
‘As the Chelsea fan club in Azerbaijan, we express our disappointment with the unprofessional, prejudiced, and irritating comments from the commentators of Idman Azerbaijan, as well as with the racist remarks used by them against N’Golo Kante […] and strongly condemn it. We hope that such cases won’t be repeated and every spectator will be able to get equal enjoyment from the commentary on games’.
On 16 August, Azerbaijani sports daily Football+ published an article headlined ‘Unprecedented racism from Idman Azerbaijan television’.
In it, they cited the statement from the Chelsea fan club and condemned the TV station for not taking any action.
‘Any self-respecting media would apologise after such shameful behaviour or fire their employee […] neither the channel nor the commentators have made any apologies’, the article said.
‘It turns out that racism is the favoured politics of Azerbaijan’s state television and the words of state officials about religious, national, and racial tolerance are nothing but an empty and meaningless stack of words!’, said the article.
A day later, Abdullayev announced his suspension. In his post on Instagram, Abdullayev did not apologise for his remark, instead indirectly blaming those who he said contributed to his suspension.
‘Because of the writings of my […] “colleagues” I will not commentate [matches] for one month. I don’t know whether I will be back or not. I only know that every day I will remember all the skeletons from their past and future. This means that they should get ready and watch out from now on’, he said.
‘This step shows how seriously we approach the issue’
Mubariz Aslanov, the Head of the Social Media and Public Relations department at Idman Azerbaijan's parent company, AzTv CJSC, told OC Media that the decision to suspend Abdullayev was the channel’s own decision and was not based on any complaint.
He said the channel’s policies regarding religious, national, and racial tolerance were in line with the government’s. ‘Azerbaijan is a multicultural, tolerant state and in our country, religious, national, and racial discrimination are unacceptable. And this policy is the main priority in the media’s work’, he said.
Asked why the channel had not apologised publicly over the incident, Aslanov said their actions towards Abdullayev spoke for themselves. ‘We suppose that this step shows how seriously we approach the issue’, he said.
‘The TV channel organises trainings and holds meetings on media ethics for each employee. However, unfortunately, it is a common occurrence not only in Azerbaijan but also on TV channels worldwide that a commentator or a showman allows himself to take actions or make remarks that go beyond ethics’, he said, adding that ‘such cases are rare’ in Azerbaijan.
‘In any case, the main goal is to prevent such cases and seriously fight against them’, he said.
Azerbaijani media expert Aynur Karimova told OC Media that Abdullaev’s behaviour was unacceptable, ‘since a journalist, in a sense, is a bearer of public ethics’.
‘A journalist can be held legally responsible only if there were specific clauses about this in their employment contract. I think that when being accepted to a job, a “mission statement” should be presented to the employee to familiarise themselves with’, she said.
‘I’m not sure that such a document was presented or training was held. But on the other hand, from an ethical point of view, an intelligent person would never speak badly of a person’s race, religion, social status, etc.’, she added.