Dealing with racism in football
I got myself in to a little local difficulty yesterday by questioning, on twitter, the CPS decision to prosecute John Terry for racism. 140 characters doesn’t really lend itself to a detailed and nuanced argument. So never knowing when to give up, I thought I’d have another go at explaining my rationale – it’s really a relativist argument about the crap and slow nature of our criminal justice system and an assessment of the law of unintended consequences. It is not a claim that he wasn’t racist. Nor that he shouldn’t be punished.
John Terry, high profile Chelsea football and captain of the England national team, racially abused Anton Ferdinand in a game on the 23th October. I have no problem saying that because I’ve seen this video. It’s pretty clear that John Terry insults Anton Ferdinand and uses the colour of his skin as an intergral part of that insult. It’s racist. He should be punished.
And yes, for the record I do realise under UK criminal law John Terry is, rightly, regarded as innocent until proven guilty. But even a verdict of ‘not guilty’ will not convince me that calling someone a ‘black cunt’ is anything other than racist. In the court of Sarah Hayward he’s been tried and found guilty – because calling someone a ‘black cunt’ is racist.
So what’s happened since John Terry made those comments? Over nine weeks ago.
He’s played every game for Chelsea. He’s earned a reputed £150,000 per week. He’has the full backing of his club.
Meanwhile the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) has investigated. Which presumably means watching the same video I have and taking statements. Although, given the video evidence the statements could yet prove superfluous to procedings.
Yesterday, the CPS decided that John Terry does have a case to answer. And they decided to charge him with a racially aggrivated public order offence. The maximum sentence that Terry appears to be able to receive is £2,500.
So what happens now? Well, John Terry will play every game for Chelsea. John Terry will earn £150,000 per week. John Terry’s club will stand by him.
He will attend a commital hearing at a magistrates’ court on the 1 February, and god knows when the trial will be. It may or may not be before the end of the season. It may or may not be before the end of the European championships taking place in Poland and Ukraine next summer.
He will play every game for Chelsea (and almost certainly England). He’ll earn £150k per week and he’ll have the full backing of his club.
His club probably aren’t really at fault here, because since he is innocent until proved guilty. The judicial process has almost pushed them in to a stance of backing him rather than dealing with his racism, or the culture they (and many other football clubs) breed that makes it, in his view, acceptable for him to behave this way.
The judicial process will get to the point of the season where his behaviour is excused in the name of his club, or worse his country. England will play on grounds and against teams where other England players have been subject to racism by the fans of those clubs or countries. And John Terry will probably wear the captain’s arm band.
So when another team’s fans monkey chant at Theo Walcott or Ashely Cole, as so often happens when England travel in Europe, what will we do? We’ll have a captain who’s on video calling a black English player a ‘black cunt’. Who has played every game, earning £150k per week with the full backing of his club. Could we really lodge a serious complaint with UEFA in those circumstances?
I guess this isn’t really an argument against the charge per se. But he’s on tape. Calling another player a ‘black cunt’. Everyone can watch it, everyone can draw their own conclusion.
The CPS’s action has inadvertently meant that John Terry will get to play, probably, the entire season, get to pick up his really fat pay cheque, with the full backing of his club (and probably country) consequence free.
Meanwhile on Regent’s Park Pitches and Hackney Marshes and countless other grounds up and down the country kids will be playing football, having watched the video of John Terry, the England captain, call a peer a ‘black cunt’ apparently completely consequence free.
The FA just banned Suarez for eight games and fined him £40k – 16 times what the courts can fine Terry, for a racist incident that happened the weekend before John Terry’s abuse hurling. It’s actually pretty crap that the FA has a greater sanction, but then I guess our fining structure isn’t written with premiership wages in mind.
Terry should be punished. He shouldn’t be able to play every week, he shouldn’t be able to continue to receive his £150k pay cheque each week, and his club should be dealing with the racism within football not backing their player.
But the interminably slow wheels of justice means we’ll practically have forgotten what happened by the time it comes to court. The FA will lose the appetite or even the ability to sanction. People will start to make the argument that we need him for England games and Chelsea get to keep their player for the whole season.
I’m sure the CPS have the best intentions in mind, or at the very least think justice is served by bringing charges. And the prospect of a premiership footballer getting a conviction is a big prize. If it happens. But this justice seems to me to be coming at a massive cost and not just the tax payer expence of extracting a maximum £2.5k fine out of someone who earns 60 times that in a week.
What happens if the threshold of criminal proof can’t be met for the specific charge? Well then Terry’s still on tape calling someone a ‘black cunt’, that’s still racist. But people who don’t want to deal with the issues will again be able to argue that, oh well he wasn’t actually racist afterall. It will make it practically impossible for the FA to charge separately. And we just won’t deal with it.
What the CPS has actually done is give football another excuse to ignore racism and sweep these persistent and deep seated issues under the carpet. That doesn’t serve Anton Ferdinand, it doesn’t help combat racism and it doesn’t serve English football.