Stigma of racism will be hard to shake off

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 01:00

DANIEL TAYLORis amazed at the leniency of the punishment

THE FIRST thing that hits you between the eyes is that you don’t get much for the odd bit of racial abuse, do you? Four games, to be precise. Just one more than the usual ban for a bad tackle and red card. Or, to put it another way, half the punishment Luis Suarez received when another of the Football Association’s independent commissions decided he had repeatedly called Patrice Evra “negro” during an argument when Manchester United played at Anfield last season.

Fewer, too, than the case of Ruesha Littlejohn, a Liverpool Ladies player who made some comments on her Twitter account that the FA deemed in May as “including a reference to sexual orientation”. The chances are you have never heard of this case.

Littlejohn, now of Glasgow City, got six games.

It seems strange that the FA can decide John Terry directed a stream of vile abuse – we all know the words by now – in the direction of an opponent, and that it is barely more serious than the average red-card offence, with a fine of not much more than a week’s wages thrown in.

Terry, naturally, will cling to his warped belief that he is the victim, not Anton Ferdinand, and we have already witnessed from the Suarez case how inside the football bubble there will be a stampede of people reassuring him that they believe every word and it is all a witch hunt – for no other reason, very often, than because they happen to follow his football team.

Yet the truth, unmistakably, is that Terry has been fortunate. The FA’s commission had the chance to impose the kind of sanction that does justice to the idea that racism is, to use Terry’s own words earlier this summer, as deplorable as it gets and that football won’t tolerate it. It went for leniency instead.

That is not the way Terry will see it, of course, when the FA’s investigators have not been deterred by the verdict from Westminster magistrates court in July and, true, the damage will be considerable in other ways, in terms of his standing, the way he is judged and what it means for him over the rest of his career.

Men of supreme arrogance have a tendency never to admit wrongdoing but, from here, it does not matter how many people his lawyers produce to talk about what a nice guy he really is and how, again, it is all one big misunderstanding. His reputation has suffered potentially irreparable damage with this judgment. Chelsea’s captain used to be nicknamed “Teflon Terry” because of the way nothing ever stuck and every accusation of potentially dodgy behaviour – allegedly charging £10,000 (€12,500) for a training-ground tour, the apparent touting of his executive box at Wembley, and all the rest – was explained away as crossed wires or some innocent mistake. No more. The stigma of racism is attached to Terry like a tick on the side of a dog.

The people who want to believe he is somehow the victim may like to ponder what the mood must be like in football when an organisation as eminently sensible as Kick It Out has aligned itself to Ferdinand, its representatives even sitting with his parents in court, on the basis that it considered Terry’s account flimsy in the extreme.

Terry’s camp has not been short of character references, involving some of the great and good of Chelsea. Jose Mourinho signed. So did the bloke who supplies cars for Chelsea’s players. Avram Grant, who has experienced racism and should know better, argued this week that the case should never have been brought. “Nobody thinks John Terry is a racist,” he said. “The FA needs to leave it.”

What Terry’s sympathisers have never explained is why, inside football, it was known well before the trial began that Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Mikel John Obi and Chelsea’s Kick It Out ambassador, Florent Malouda, were not among those from Stamford Bridge who had signed statements supporting their colleague.

Contrary to what Grant says, there has actually been a great sense of anger and revulsion within the game about what Terry said to Ferdinand when Chelsea played at QPR last season. Some of Terry’s England colleagues have had to blank it out. At least one is understood to have confronted him.

Fitz Hall is another example – a player Terry talked about during the trial as if they were old mates, going back years. Hall was a QPR player when Terry and Ferdinand started their row. The message Hall put on Twitter on July 13th, the day of Terry’s acquittal, was short and to the point: “Fucking joke.” He was far from alone.

If Terry said he heard Ferdinand shouting the offending words first, and that he was merely repeating them back out of surprise, who could say definitively he was wrong?

It may seem unusual, far-fetched even, but a court needs proof beyond a reasonable doubt whereas the FA’s disciplinary arm rules on the basis of probability.

If nothing else, that disparity gives Chelsea the get-out clause they will almost certainly take to avoid investigating Terry themselves. At a normal company, he would have been suspended as soon as the allegation surfaced.

Chelsea have a strong and successful anti-racism campaign and, if they turn a blind eye now, when the football authorities are telling them Terry is guilty, it would send out completely the wrong message. As it is, a ban of only four matches has done that itself.

Guardian Service

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