Aleksandar Antonov, the winner of this season’s official Premier League fantasy football competition—the world’s biggest, with over 7 million players worldwide—has been stripped of his title after comments he made about a black player were forwarded to the game’s organisers.
As The Guardian report, Antonov was told by the Premier League on Tuesday morning that he had been disqualified from this year’s competition. While the organisation has not commented other than to specify his removal was due to a “breach of our terms”, Antonov has since spoken in a YouTube video and a series of tweets.
“The reason for my disqualification is a moment of frustration with a player, put into words, written between friends”, he says. “It was never meant to offend any footballer. It is not something I posted or said directly towards a footballer.”
Antonov said the comments were made in a private group chat among only a small group of friends, which were then forwarded by someone to the Premier League.
The word in question, which sure sounds like it was said “directly towards a footballer” (England and Manchester City star Raheem Sterling), was “neger4e”, which Antonov attempted to explain away in a Twitter thread:
“What we write with my friends in our chat is football banter, I’m sure it’s not that different from your football banter chats.”
As someone who still plays football, he’s right! And also that’s not the point. Football teams tend to bring together people from all walks of life, including their political persuasions, and some of the people I play and train and have beers with every week have said stuff that’s caused some...disagreements between us.
But our player registrations aren’t bound by terms that would allow the Premier League—the actual professional sporting competition itself, since it governs its fantasy football directly—to disqualify us for making derogatory comments towards a black player, even if they were made in private.
While the fact the comments were made in a private group may raise questions as to how they would affect Antonov’s competition victory, the Premier League had little choice but to act once the comments were in their possession. The league was beset by some high-profile racial controversies earlier this decade, and has also had to contend with a recent surge in abuse directed towards black players from fans.
A league which literally replaced every player’s name with “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the back of their jerseys for a while couldn’t exactly let something like this slide.
With Antonov disqualified, victory goes to Josh Bull, a researcher in mathematical oncology at Oxford University, who wins “a seven-night holiday and VIP hospitality tickets to two Premier League matches”.