Thursday, 27 September 2012

Inconsistencies galore as Terrygate is finally over

A dispassionate defence of John Terry

A long-running saga was ended on 27 September when the FA charged Chelsea and former England captain John Terry with "using abusive language", a charge which "included a reference to colour and/ or race". Terry now faces a four match suspension and must pay £220,000, should he decline his right to appeal. Terry was acquitted of criminal charges at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 13 July in a rigorous four-day trial but the FA exercised its ability to conduct its own investigation.

Unlike a court of law, the FA doesn't need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to record a conviction. With the torrent of hate being poured at Terry, it's highly likely that the independent panel felt a little pressured to deliver a guilty verdict. That outcome, too, felt inevitable. Football is currently on a mission to purify its game. Terry may have got away with it once but football wasn't going to let him off the hook twice.

In enforcing the charge, the FA has created a platform for Terry-abuse. However, whether it's a fair one is dubious. Terry's defence, that he was repeating what was said to him by Anton Ferdinand, held up in the Magistrates'. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Magistrates got it right and the FA, acting on behalf of the good of football, got it wrong.

John Obi Mikel was stood beside Terry when the words that landed him in this situation came out. He's one of many black Chelsea players who, not only took no offence to Terry's words, but flew to their captain's defence during the trial. These are people who work with Terry every day and did not hesitate to help him clear his name. In the eyes of these players, it was heat of the moment foul-mouthing from one player to another; nothing more and should have been treated like nothing more. 

Indeed, Ferdinand didn't even hear firsthand what was said to him. He was informed of footage of their argument, and after one thing had led to another, agreed to pursue the matter in a case that rapidly began to gather momentum. As no personal harm was caused at the time of the incident, it feels contrived that such an ordeal would ensue. 

John Terry is far from the only one to come off badly from this affair. The FA look ridiculous having handed Luis Suarez a suspension double the length that Terry received for a racist tirade on Patrice Evra just last year. The offender's intentions in this case were also questionable: Suarez claimed the aggravating word 'negro' is common in latin American countries, and means no harm.  

Followers of football have lamented a lack of continuity as the FA failed to match the charges. Suarez's £40,000 fine is considerably less than Terry's. Because Suarez was banned for longer but Terry was fined more, it's impossible to tell which act of charged racism was deemed worse.

A consequence of the events, which loomed over football for nearly a year, saw Rio Ferdinand's effective eligibility to the England Euro 2012 squad decimated merely for being the brother of Anton. England also lost a manager. For a four match ban and around a fine of a week's wages, it begs the question was the whole thing worth it?

Racism is foul and needs to be tackled in football, as in other arenas of life. Though in the cases of Suarez and Terry the truth may be that a desire to present a tough stance on racism, combined with their high profile personalities, led to their receiving considerably steeper punishment than their actions warranted.

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