Terry and Suarez remain firmly in the firing line


TIPPING POINT:Racism is never going to go away – but racist comments are still unacceptable and at official level they have to be seen to be punished severely

SINCE THE nuances of English are foreign to most of the Premier League’s home-grown participants, the intricacies of unravelling Spanish slang are likely to be a big stretch for the English FA in proving the charge of racist insults by Luis Suarez towards Patrice Evra.

Apparently the Liverpool striker repeatedly used the word “negrito” towards Evra during last month’s Premier League game at Anfield. The Frenchman didn’t like it. Suarez’s version is that such a phrase in his native Uruguay, and throughout the Spanish-speaking word, is a neutral term, affectionate almost, and devoid of any racial connotations.

And that may very well be the case. It’s one of the beauties of language that cultural vagaries can result in any amount of interpretations. Tone, accent, class and incalculable other variables can provoke an emphasis that changes the meaning of a whole phrase, loading it with offence, or robbing it. Ultimately it often comes down to context.

Yours truly has some South African pals to whom I am, and will forever be, “Paddy”. It felt a little weird at first but it is said so straight-forwardly, and without baggage, that only the thinnest of skins could get the hump.

But anyone with an English accent using the word “Paddy” would be a very different kettle of fish. Like it or not, there isn’t so much baggage coming with that combination as a freighter full to the brim. No doubt there will be plenty English people, and more than a few Irish, whose instinctive response to that would be to advise me to grow up, remove the chip and point out that this country is still way too in thrall to its history. And they’re correct. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

The context of Suarez’s use of the “N” word though doesn’t obviously lend itself to the inoffensive interpretation that he argues is the reality. For one thing, Evra claims Suarez used it over 10 times during the match which seems a barrage of affection considering the competitiveness of a Liverpool-Manchester United game. And since the evidence seems to suggest Suarez used it while arguing and shouting, context hardly suggests he was in a warm mood towards his United rival. How you prove that however is a ‘caballo’ of a very different colour.

Does that make Suarez a racist?

Certainly not it seems in the archetypal skinhead moron sense. The same as John Terry doesn’t appear to be, even if he did use the words “f****** black c***” during his confrontation with Anton Ferdinand.

When someone as cultivated as Arsene Wenger points out that things are often said in the heat of the moment on a pitch, the Arsenal manager is only expressing a patent truth, no matter how much the gurning idiot that is Sepp Blatter might discredit such a viewpoint with his woefully ill-judged comments.

Blatter’s stupidity is to address the issue of race in – excuse the pun – black and white terms whereas the reality is that we’re talking real shades of grey here. Attempts for instance to paint Steve Williams as some torch-wielding redneck over his recent comments about Tiger Woods don’t really stand up to the reality of how the gobby caddy had the golfer as his best man when getting married. Nevertheless how he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist from golf’s authorities for embellishing his “arsehole” views with the word “black” is hard to credit. Just because someone isn’t racist doesn’t mean the language they employ doesn’t constitute racism.

Excusing the language used by Williams, and reportedly used by Terry, as heat-of-the-moment stuff also crucially ignores the context in which it was uttered.

Golf still presents an overwhelmingly white face to the world despite the fact that its most successful practitioner for decades is black.

Forecasts that Woods’ influence would result in golf becoming a much more egalitarian pursuit, where everyone of every colour gets to indulge in naff behaviour in even more naff clothes, may yet come true. But it certainly won’t for a while yet. Williams’ reach for the black card in attempting to express vehemence towards his former employer was regrettable. That he didn’t get penalised for it is even more so.

Of course Woods famously has a fruity vocabulary himself. And while he equally famously tows the corporate line in public, it doesn’t require a huge leap to imagine how he might have greeted the Williams comments in private with an opinion on how he ever employed such a “cracker” arsehole in the first place. But drawing a comparison between that and the “N” word for instance ignores a helluva lot of context, not least of which is that the phrase “cracker” is believed to derive from the sound made of a slave-driver’s whip.

The sounds that emerge from football terraces aren’t pretty either. They may not be as bad as the obscenities that tarnished the game a couple of decades ago but only the most hopelessly optimistic can believe the poisonous reservoir of bile that divides humanity into mere skin colour isn’t still bubbling underneath the surface.

John Terry appears to be many things but a pea-green innocent isn’t one of them. If he did say to Ferdinand what the QPR defender claims he did, then it was a cheap, filthy barb that most people judging on the England captain’s already colourful CV would hardly be shocked at him uttering.

Maybe he did get carried away in the moment at Loftus Road. Maybe he regrets the language he is accused of using. Maybe he isn’t a racist. But if the FA finds that he did abuse Ferdinand, the book has to be thrown at him, and be seen to be thrown at him.

And if Suarez is found guilty, then several books should be seen to be flung because the Uruguayan will have been judged to have systematically goaded Evra.

Racism is never going to go away. Too many inadequates desperate to blame their inadequacies on someone else will always exist. But at official level it has to be seen to be completely offside.

Sadly football’s authorities worldwide have a less than convincing record when it comes to being seen to stamp down on racial abuse, often reaching for token fines when the need for substantial penalties are obvious to everyone else.

That’s why Blatter’s comments were so stupid. Heat-of-the-moment on a football pitch might be one thing. But any idea from football’s highest echelon that any amount of disgusting abuse on that same pitch can be solved with a handshake is so simplistic it can only rationally be regarded as a nod-and-a-wink to racist morons everywhere.