The boss of the UK’s biggest taxi firm apologised today for comparing a deaf footballer who ‘grunts’ during matches to female tennis players. Millionaire Addison Lee chairman and leading Tory donor John Griffin appeared to crack the joke at the expense of Potters Bar’s deaf footballer Daniel Ailey. The non-league striker
was abused by Grays Athletic fans in a midweek match last month for the way he communicates with his team-mates.
Police were called when some of the fans started making loud grunting noises mocking the way he gets the attention of his fellow players.
The 69-year-old mini cab boss involved in the row by sending an e-mail from his Addison Lee account to his local paper comparing the noises made by Ailey to those of female tennis stars, such as Maria Sharapova.
His comments were made public sparking anger from charities, and today he issued an apology for causing any offence.
He said: ‘I regret any offence caused by my comments. This was certainly not my intention and I apologise.’
Sharapova has reached levels of 101 decibels, which is the equivalent of an aeroplane landing while other female tennis stars such as Serena Williams have also been accused of making a lot of noise while playing.
Williams’ grunt is more low pitched than Sharapova’s but is still the equivalent noise level as a jackhammer, at 88.9 decibels.
Mr Griffin, who lives in a luxury house in Potters Bar and is believed to be worth £50million, sent the e-mail to the Welwyn & Hatfield Times news reporter Paul Christian who reported on the original story.
In the e-mail he said the police at the ground should have ‘demanded’ the profoundly-deaf player ‘discontinue’ the way he communicates.
He also said: ‘I long ago gave up watching women’s tennis due to the loud and [un]acceptable level of grunting.
‘I note that the police were called and I hope they demanded that the footballer should discontinue making noises that could be misinterpreted by members of the crowd.’
Rebecca Griffin, the charity’s head of PR and campaigns, said: ‘We are very disappointed by the reported lack of deaf awareness shown by a section of the supporters and hope, in future, they show more respect to a talented footballer who is trying to overcome communication barriers during matches.
‘We are also extremely concerned by the comments made by Mr Griffin and expect they will be seen as a spectacular own goal by many of his company’s customers who are deaf or hard of hearing.’
‘Addison Lee is an equal opportunities employer and we are strongly committed to employing disabled people as is demonstrated through our membership of the ‘Two Ticks’ scheme.’
Ailey was subjected to the taunts when he came on as a 66th minute sub during the home game on October 23, which Grays Athletic won 2-0.
Police were called but left shortly afterwards when it appeared that the abuse had stopped.
But Potters Bar Town manager Adam Lee described the unacceptable behaviour as ‘a sad state of affairs’, in light of the incredible success of the 2012 Paralympics.
He said: ‘There was an incident involving a group of Grays supporters who were taking the mickey out of Daniel, which I think was a bit unsavoury. In this day and age it’s disappointing.’
‘I didn’t think it was racial because there are black players from both sides.’
Lee explained Daniel wants the ball he makes a ‘groaning, grunting noise’ which he said was copied by opposition fans.
And Peter Waller, 61, chairman of Potter’s Bar Town FC, described the abuse from the away fans as ‘unacceptable’.
He said: ‘We are not happy at all with the behaviour on that day. The incident has gone to the FA and we hope they will deal with it seriously. This is an issue that needs to be discussed – it is unacceptable to abuse any players.
‘Mr Griffin is entitled to have his say, but imagine if we had all laughed at disabled athletes at the Paralympics.
‘It does not matter what noises Daniel makes on the pitch, the only important thing is that he is a good footballer.’
It is not the first time that Mr Griffin has been involved in a controversy, back in April he told his drivers to break the law by using bus lanes in London.
The self-made top Tory donor and father-of-two also lost a money-spinning £4million Government contract the same month in a bitter cash row.
Mr Griffin, who founded Addison Lee in Battersea, south London, in 1975 with one car, also infuriated the city’s tens of thousands of cyclists in April.
‘They leap on to a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat.
‘Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss.
‘The fact is he just didn’t see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.’
Addison Lee carries a up to 10million passengers a year as well as making 1million courier deliveries.