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MLS cannot verify Taxi Fountas used slur but calls allegation ‘credible’

D.C. United's Taxi Fountas, seen here with Inter Miami's Bryce Duke, did not appear in the team's last two MLS matches after the Sept. 18 incident. (Tony Quinn for The Washington Post)

D.C. United star Taxi Fountas will not face discipline from MLS after a league investigation found no conclusive evidence he directed a racial slur at an opponent during a Sept. 18 match at Audi Field.

The league said Monday that Miami defender Aimé Mabika’s allegation was “credible” but it could not “independently verify” it. MLS also said it did not find credible “Fountas’s claim that he said nothing in that moment — discriminatory or otherwise. Video of the incident clearly shows Mabika suddenly reacting to something he believed he heard from Fountas.”

As part of the investigation, the league said, it interviewed several people and reviewed video footage and audio recordings but was unable to determine “what Fountas said in that moment.”

Mabika had accused Fountas of using the n-word during an incident with Damion Lowe in the second half. Lowe, who is Jamaican, and Mabika, who is Zambian, are Black. Fountas, who is Greek, is White.

Miami refused to resume playing unless Fountas was removed from the game. United Coach Wayne Rooney obliged.

“I did not use the word I am being accused of using,” Fountas wrote in an Instagram post a day later. “That despicable racial slur is one I denounce and did not use. We had a hot discussion on the field. But I have not racially abused anyone. I firmly reject racism in any form. It is despicable.”

Referee Ismail Elfath told a pool reporter at the time that no official had heard racist or abusive language and that none was detected via video review.

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As previously scheduled, Fountas then traveled to Greece to play twice for his national team. He was due to return stateside for the last two MLS games of the season, but citing the stress of the situation on Fountas and his family, Rooney granted him additional time off.

Fountas, United’s lone all-star selection, is under contract through the 2024 season. This year, he had a team-high 12 goals and added three assists in 21 appearances.

In a statement, United officials said they “appreciate and accept the findings of the league’s investigation, as well as the conclusion that the act in question could not be confirmed following several interviews that took place with individuals involved and nearby the incident.”

MLS interviewed Fountas at least twice, people familiar with the probe said, and contacted United’s Christian Benteke and Ravel Morrison, who are Black. Both were on the field at the time of the incident. Several Miami players also were interviewed.

Fountas was not available to comment Monday, but a person who has spoken to him said the player is “relieved and eager to come back.” Miami officials did not immediately comment.

MLS said it will reexamine its policies and practices related to allegations of abusive and discriminatory language.

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In a separate investigation, MLS announced that it had fined United $25,000 for violating the league’s diversity hiring policy before the club appointed Rooney in July. A first offense warranted a fine of up to $50,000.

As part of updated guidelines established in December, teams are required to interview at least two candidates from underrepresented groups, including one Black candidate, for jobs on the technical staff, such as coach and general manager. (Previous rules mandated one candidate from those groups.)

Starting with a list of at least five candidates, United did speak with a Black and a Latino coach — both from abroad, a person close to the situation said — but one of those conversations “could not be considered a ‘finalist pool’ interview,” the league said.

One candidate, United said in a statement, went through the same process as the others. However, the club added, he then told team officials he would not be interested in a job that began midseason.

“Upon learning this, the club focused its attention on the remaining finalist candidates,” United said.

The league, however, said United “remained obligated to bring an additional candidate from an underrepresented group into the ‘finalist pool’ or request a waiver from MLS detailing the extenuating circumstances that would not allow them to have done so.”