What John Terry Racism Verdict Means for Football

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJuly 18, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 13:  John Terry arives at Court for the last day of his alleged racial abuse trial on July 13, 2012 in London, England. The former England captain allegedly made racist comments to Queens Park Rangers' defender Anton Ferdinand during a match on October 23 last year, at Queens Park Rangers' ground, Loftus Road, and a verdict is expected to be reached today. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)
Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

On July 13, 2012, John Terry was found not guilty of directing racial abuse at Anton Ferdinand.

The case was heard by a Senior District Judge, Howard Riddle.

Following a challenge by the Defense, in the early stages of the Court Hearing, he ruled that there was a case to answer.

In British law, a case has to be proven "beyond reasonable doubt." The Judge was in no doubt that Terry had used the racially offensive words, but he was not able to ascertain whether they were used offensively as opposed to repeating back an accusation that he had used them.

Unlike in the FA case of Patrice Evra, Ferdinand himself had not made a complaint and indeed had not reported it to anyone at the match where it took place. It was drawn to his attention later. The Crown Prosecution Service brought the case on the basis of a complaint to the police by a member of the public.

While both lip-reading experts were agreed that Terry had used the offensive words, there was a break in the video evidence caused by an obstruction and therefore the Judge could not be certain whether Ferdinand had, as Terry alleged, made the accusation in the first place.

Stirring up feelings all around

As the Judge said in his judgement:

"Society does not tolerate racist comments, nor do England football players, nor does the law. Any ordinary person wrongly accused of making a racist comment would be shocked and angered."


Not many people will have read that judgement and even less the transcript of the case. I have read both.

It is not surprising that before, during and after the case, the media has tended to focus on summaries of events, together with the most interesting or thought-provoking facts or comments.

It is equally unsurprising that sides would be taken throughout. This was no contest between QPR and Chelsea themselves, although it would be unsurprising if the two sets of supporters took sides in support of "their man."

There is a much wider debate, however. It was not caused by the Evra/Suarez case, but it was substantially stimulated by it.

It is a sad fact that racism and racial abuse have existed in football for far too long. What is even sadder is that much of this so-called "racism" is in fact simply color prejudice, often against black people in general.

It has not, in my opinion, been satisfactorily addressed by FIFA and other footballing authorities. The FA may be an exception in this respect, with their strong association with the "Kick It Out" campaign and Respect.

While many people seem to think that the FA tried and found Suarez guilty, it was actually an independent FA tribunal, chaired by one of the leading legal experts in the field in the whole of the UK.

It is no surprise that the Suarez judgement and punishment were felt to be harsh by him, Liverpool and their supporters. I would feel the same if it was a Manchester United player.

But there is as strong a will in the UK to stamp out racial abuse and racism as there is anywhere in the world.

It is for that reason that so many agencies and others took such a close interest in the John Terry case.


An unexpected outcome?

Clearly the outcome was the best that Chelsea and John Terry could have hoped for. Being involved in a legal case in the public eye for several days will have been bad enough. It was reported that some of Terry's supporters in Court cheered the outcome.

There will of course have been mixed emotions of relief, delight, etc.

Sadly, irrespective of the outcome, it has done football little good to have this case and its details relayed through the media, hour by hour and day by day.

There are other groups of people for whom the decision may have been a disappointment. The evidence on YouTube, before it was withdrawn (and which I also saw on the day) seemed to be pretty damning.

What we should all be able to do, however, is move on. John Terry has been found not guilty. That is a fact and there will be no retrial or appeal.

What happens next is down to the FA and those who campaign to stamp racism out of football.


The FA's next move

The FA has apparently been frustrated that the CPS decided to bring a case before they themselves had a chance to pursue their own hearing.

The FA is still apparently considering what to do with regard to Terry and indeed may now be considering whether Ferdinand has a case to answer for bringing the game into disrepute, following transcripts of the "industrial" language used between the two.

That Telegraph article also implies that the FA may have some challenges to resolve themselves in the matter of "inclusion."

On the one hand, it would seem unlikely that the FA will simply "let sleeping dogs lie." It would also seem unlikely that they would charge Terry alone.

If they did charge Terry with racial abuse under their own code, it would create a very difficult situation—even for an independent tribunal.

On the one hand, Luis Suarez received an eight-match ban for using an inappropriate word to a black player. The judgement on John Terry's case is unequivocal in confirming that he used the word "black" in a comment to a black player.

The core of the difficulty is that whereas an English Court requires a case to be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," the FA's own test is simply "on the balance of probabilities."

The anti-racism response

While the world at large might well want the whole caravan to move on and put the unfortunate business behind all concerned, the case and the "circus" of comment around it would suggest that there is still, and has been for some time, a problem in football and beyond.

It would be most unfortunate under English law if anyone had hoped that John Terry would be found guilty. That is the reaction of the gallows crowd. The core principle of English law is that a man is innocent until proved guilty. The case did not prove Terry guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Far too many people assumed his guilt on the basis of a YouTube clip where suddenly they became expert lip-readers. Even the actual lip-reading experts confirmed that emotion cannot be proved or inferred without sound.

Far too many other people then simply jumped on the bandwagon, on the basis of hearsay. Not everyone likes Chelsea or John Terry.  

The reaction of anti-racism campaigners was hardly surprising.

According to the BBC, anti-discrimination campaigner John Amaechi has already demanded "swift and decisive action" by the FA. 

"The danger is black people in football will start to look more cynically on the FA and their true stance rather than their rhetoric on racism." 

The Guardian reported that the "not guilty verdict could dissuade players who have been racially abused from making complaints."

Among other comments, in the Mail, "Professional Footballers' Association chairman Clarke Carlisle is prepared for a period of 'mayhem' in football if it helps the game clean up its act in the wake of the John Terry court case."

And the Mirror reported Piara Power of FARE (European football's anti-racism campaign) as suggesting that if the FA charged Anton Ferdinand, "no black player will ever speak out again." 


Nobody wins

And its not really about winning and losing, except to stop human beings being abused—especially for the colour of their skin.

Its about human decency and respect for a fellow man (or woman). 

If John Terry had been found guilty, he would have been vilified, both publicly and by the authorities and campaigners. That he wasn't sadly has not made matters any better, except in one respect.

So much has been stirred up, before, during and since the case, that every authority from football, all the way to its national, regional and international governing bodies and indeed government in general will inevitably take an even harsher stand, otherwise matters will get out of hand.

Crowds and individual 'fans' would continue to abuse black players. Abuse would continue on and off the field. The problem would run the risk of going underground in respect of reporting abuse if players do not believe they will get a fair hearing or just verdict.

Racism and colour prejudice are still endemic in society. 

We are constantly told that sportsmen and women should be role models for young people and society in general. In that case, both Terry and Ferdinand must at least be tried by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute.

But the governing authorities and government itself must be a role model and leader for society in general. They have a right to take a deep interest in any sport where an issue goes to the core of the law and society's moral or ethical values.

This is a time for leadership. Not just blind punitive action. Not rhetoric, oratory and taking sides.

It is a time for all parties concerned to have a public debate and resolve this issue for once and all.

You may think this is a load of nonsense and you are entitled to your opinion, but nobody is entitled to abuse another human being on any pretext whatsoever. Colour prejudice seems to be the most blindly stupid of them all.


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