FA: Judge, Jury and Impotent

November 22, 2012 9:24 pm

The FA is under fire once more after being branded “institutionally racist”. The strongly worded condemnation came from Peter Herbert, chair of the Society for Black Lawyers, in a response to the FA’s refusal to report alleged racist comments by referee Mark Clattenburg to the police. Chelsea F.C. argued that the FA was the appropriate body to deal with the matter as opposed to the police. This view has garnered support from former England and Liverpool player John Barnes, who was critical of Herbert and the Society’s involvement in matters relating to football. It is a cause for concern that leading figures in the fight against racism in football including Barnes and Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle remain attached to self-regulation when it has been a resounding failure in the past.

Jason Roberts, the Reading striker, caused much controversy last month when he refused to wear a ‘Kick it Out’ T-shirt during pre-game warm-ups. Roberts was the figurehead of a protest joined by a group of black Premiership players including Victor Anichebe, Kenwyne Jones and the Ferdinand brothers who also boycotted the campaign. The ‘Kick it Out’ campaign is of course a wholly inadequate response to the prevalence of discrimination within the beautiful game. Encouraging players to wear T-shirts bearing positive slogans is a prime example of the FA engaging in inconsequential public displays rather than taking substantive action to deter racism.

Whenever it has been required to take practical action, the FA has been faint-hearted and inept, as demonstrated by the main source of Roberts’ complaint; the sanction handed to John Terry after he was found guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. Terry was cleared in court and found not guilty of a racially aggravated public order offence, thereby avoiding a criminal conviction, but did not fare as well in the FA disciplinary hearing which required a lower burden of proof. In the criminal trial, the prosecution was unable to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Terry had used the racist language with the intention of insulting Ferdinand.  However, a guilty verdict was reached in the FA disciplinary hearing after it was found that on the balance of probabilities; Terry had used the words “fucking black c**t” as an insult. Terry’s defence was “deemed improbable, implausible and contrived”. Nevertheless, he was given a mere four-match ban and a £220,000 fine; the equivalent of roughly one-week’s wages.

The upshot of this is that while it cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt, it is highly probable that John Terry is a racist. In a needless softening of its verdict, the FA panel stated that, while it was satisfied Terry used racist language with the intent of racially abusing Ferdinand, he is not a racist. This argument defies logic. Those guilty of making derogatory comments about homosexuals or of sexual harassment should be appropriately labelled homophobic or sexist and the same is true for racists. Perhaps this denial by the FA is an attempt to justify Terry’s pitifully lenient punishment. In almost any other professional context, an individual found to be responsible for racial abuse could and should be dismissed for gross misconduct. The FA’s approach appears to suggest that football is a unique environment in which racism should be more tolerable.

Terry, who is no stranger to controversy, has this time irreparably damaged his reputation and some will argue that this is punishment enough. More importantly, it is time for the FA to unequivocally recognise its prior failings and put into place a legitimate and effective plan for combating racism. Unless they do so, English football must abandon self-regulation and Herbert’s calls for alleged incidents of racism to be referred to the police must be heeded.

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