Archive for August 2012

A football poem, “The Majestic”: for Dimitar Berbatov

You and I were beautifully doomed.

With some loves, you know it’s the end before you ever really begin,

And so it was with this.

You were too elegant to settle here long.

A condor will only be happy

If you promise him a cloudless sky,

And all that I could offer you

Was routine, and queues,

And vacuuming our flat on a Sunday afternoon,

Asking you to lift your magnificent wings onto the sofa

As I hoovered about the room.

We sat in the park one afternoon,

And you looked across at me and we both knew.

You didn’t want picnics –

You wanted the majestic,

Cliff faces and ocean spray.

So I waved you up and beyond,

And when you were gone

Red wine and I were grateful that you had stayed with us awhile.

Then, too soon to smile,

I quietly folded the four corners of our cloth away.

 

A new poem, on Syria

What is happening in Syria is beyond words or pictures. I’m not sure how or what to express about this, so I thought I would start with this short piece below, which I wrote after reading of the Daraya Massacre.

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They came into the village,

And carved the life from whoever they found.
They sneered their knives into weeping flesh,
Which sobbed in terror out into the night.
It was a curse to live in these times;
To look up into the cold unmoving sky,
And see no angels there.

“Feeling like Nani”, a football poem

Many of us are like Nani –
We don’t know if we’ll wake up
In form that is mountain-top or valley.
When we’re the latter,
Even a soft challenge
From life leaves us off-balance.
On these days,
Nothing goes kosher.
To feel like Nani is to understand
That some days feel like taking corners
Where you never, ever beat the first man.
And, like Nani, we know
That there is no weight more severe
Than your duvet on a Tuesday morning
When your Monday was as bad as you’d feared.
Anyway, that Tuesday is here,
Which means Monday’s case is closed.
So we roll these sheets away;
One unkind day down,
Many better to go.

“The Football Crash”: are footballers the bankers of modern sport?

For some time now, the headlines about footballers’ wages have seemed oddly familiar; and, with the publication of a new report, the analogy has finally become clear.  These athletes, with pay packets beyond the imagination or comprehension of the average working person, appear to be the bankers of modern sport.

Dave Boyle, the author of The High Pay Centre’s new report “Football Mad: Are We Paying More for Less?”, writes that “since the creation of the Premier League in 1992, top footballers’ salaries have mushroomed, rising by 1508% to 2010. Over the same period average wages [i.e., those of the ordinary UK worker] increased by just 186%.” Moreover, he notes that “the amount spent by clubs on wages has also increased dramatically. The percentage of turnover spent on players has increased, from 48% of turnover in 1997, up to 70% in 2011.”

These superheated salaries, continues Boyle, have hit the ordinary fan particularly hard. “Fans are now paying up to 1000% more to watch their teams play, all in order to support their club’s gargantuan wage bills,” he writes. “Fans watching at home are similarly seen as a captive market, whilst those who want to watch at the pub are paying more – or finding their local can’t afford it, given the 10,000% increase in pay TV subscriptions.”  Perhaps most alarming is his observation that “since 1992, over half of England’s professional football clubs have been formally insolvent. Most only survived because the wider community received less of what they were owed in order to ensure players continued to get all of what they were promised.”

But why does this matter? Who cares about inequality of pay? After all, pubs were packed for this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament.  The new season has begun in spectacular fashion, sweeping aside the last traces of Olympic fervour with a series of wonderful goals.  And so what if many clubs are living beyond their means?  People are prepared to shell out substantial sums in support of their teams, whose adventures offer an experience that they can’t find anywhere else.  There is also the fact that the overwhelming majority of elite players have come from poor backgrounds against severe odds, and, so the argument goes, are entitled to the windfalls that come from their very short careers at the top of the game.  Most of these players – contrary to the unfavourable contrasts drawn between them and Olympians – are diligent and quietly professional, which is why most of them never make it into the papers.

Strong as these contentions may be, they do not satisfactorily address two of football’s greatest problems: an increasing lack of competitiveness, and of sustainability.  The Premier League is much-heralded for the possibility that any team is able to beat any other: however, a closer look at the statistics gives the lie to this assertion.  In the last three seasons, the bottom three teams in the league have beaten the top three teams in the league in only 7% of the matches that they have played against each other, scoring 41 goals in those 54 games whilst conceding 151.

So what, fans might say: the football, such as Manchester City’s title-winning 3-2 victory against QPR on the last day of last season, is still thrilling.  And they’d be right.  On the whole, supporters have accepted, if somewhat grudgingly, the predictability of league finishes.  The compelling problem relates to the health of the game itself.  Directors, instead of ensuring its long-term future, are chasing quick results, desperate for same-season gratification.  Accordingly, revenues are not flowing down to football’s grassroots; they are not even trickling down.  They are evaporating.

It is tempting, at a time like this, to look enviously at Germany.  There, notes the report, “clubs are owned by their supporters, who must control at least 50+1 % of the votes within a club.   That ensures a degree of accountability to fans (which works to keep ticket prices lower) and has prevented oligarchs and other wealthy individuals taking over clubs.”   There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with a wealthy individual’s takeover – you will not hear many complaints from Chelsea or Manchester City fans, for example – but the question becomes a more vexed one when those individuals, as in the cases of Portsmouth, Malaga and Manchester United, have financial goals that are at variance with the club’s best interests.

It seems that, both on and off the field, Germany get it.  Their clubs perform well, if not exceptionally, in Europe; their domestic league remains reasonably competitive, and their ticket prices remain cheap.  Moreover, they invest heavily in their coaching talent, as Boyle points out: “the ratio of coaches to players in Germany is 1 to every 150 players whereas in England it is 1 to 812…whilst the German FA makes qualifications mandatory, our own FA sets them as ‘aspirations’ for improvement.”

The message from Boyle’s study is clear: just as we had a financial crash, we may soon have “a football crash”.  Football is developing a serious case of tooth decay: however, even as the game is crying out for a round of root canal surgery, we keep on feeding it bowlfuls of sugar.  Sooner or later, this diet is really going to hurt.

 

What’s wrong with Eton

I am not sure of the wisdom of writing this article: but, after some months of thought, I felt it necessary to do so.  Every time I see my old school heavily criticised in the press, I sit down at my keyboard.  But I then experience such a range of emotions – chiefly frustration, rage, and sadness – that I end up deleting several drafts, and finally folding my laptop away.  Today, though, I think it is necessary to sit here and type till I finish.

I have Lucy Mangan of The Guardian to thank for this final prompt.  Yesterday she filed a piece about the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in the course of which she wrote that:

“we are…just a few days away from the traditional furore about the number of white, upper-class, privately educated, male students who get into Oxford and Cambridge, compared with the percentage of non-pink, non-posh, non-privileged, non-penised people who go on to study in the land of dreaming spires or a punt-strewn idyll. It happens every year, and every year it is a bigger waste of time.

“It is true, of course, that in some quadrangles you cannot throw a stick without hitting an Old Etonian. This is what makes throwing sticks in quadrangles such fun. And it is equally true that the dominance of such people at these (and other) universities is unfair, inequitable and unconscionable.”

I am wholly conflicted here.  On one hand, I hate the idea that I am part of a group of school alumni whom it is fair game to mock as posh, pampered and out of touch.  On the other hand, I hate the idea of inequality of opportunity, of which Eton is her metaphor.  I hate the fact that Eton, which I love for many reasons, is routinely singled out from hundreds of private schools for public ridicule.  It makes me bristle in the same way that you would if you heard a stranger slagging off a family member.  At the same time, I get it, for the same reason that there is currently such fury at Britain’s bankers.  We signify the rule by the few for the few.  This last sentence will be news to my bank manager; but, all the same, it is true.

I also think, further to Ms. Mangan’s comments about a “waste of time”, that in the media we should spend more time celebrating the excellence of universities other than Oxford, which I attended, and Cambridge.  My father attended Cardiff University and then Edinburgh, an education good enough to make him one of the first black consultant surgeons in the UK.  My mother, a GP, went to Manchester, which was then and remains a superb place to study.  The London 2012 Olympics showed that Britain’s achievers come from a diversity of places.  What is true of athletics is also true of academia.  We spend too long, I think, extolling the virtues of two universities, whilst in my professional and personal life I am inspired by outstanding graduates from Leeds, Exeter, Southampton, University College London and so on.

Further to being on the receiving end of sticks, I am very proud to have attended Eton.  Many people will say in the defence of Old Etonians that they did not choose to go there, but that is not true in my case.  When I was eleven years old, I passed up a place at the local grammar school because I had seen a documentary about Eton on Channel 4, and had been struck by the history and the majesty of the place.  It was a little like being on the verge of signing terms with Sunderland, and then paying a visit to Old Trafford.  And so I went to a prep school for two years on an assisted place scheme, crammed subjects I had either never learned before or even heard of, and ended up gaining a fifty per cent bursary to study at Eton.  My father had passed away many years before then, and so I will be forever grateful for the financial assistance that the school gave to my family, as well as the many fantastic role models that it gave me.

The five years I spent at Eton were, in many ways, a life-defining experience.  Its scholarship entrance examination remains the hardest test I have ever sat.  The boys I met there were some of the kindest people I have ever met, some of the most intelligent, and certainly the most competitive.  No matter how hard you worked, there was always someone more diligent.  You might think yourself smart, but you would be in a class with not one genius but three or four at a time. I felt no room for complacency there: every mark was earned.  Every grade was grafted for.  Every two terms, you were ranked from 1 to 256 against your fellow students in year-wide examinations.  Your positions were read out in a countdown in front of your peers. The tension of X-Factor had nothing on this.

In that sense, then, Eton was supremely meritocratic – once you got there, of course.  Sadly, I also understand why Ms. Mangan might think it funny to swing sticks at us.  Our country is currently being run by an unhealthily homogenous group of people, and that narrowness of vision is, I think, reflected in many of their policies.  My anger at her piece was the implication that, by virtue of my education there, I automatically shared their outlook on society, which I emphatically do not.

A close friend has repeatedly asked me to remember that I was an anomaly there, the exception to the rule, and in some ways she is right.  At one point, I was one of only two black pupils out of a total of just over 1250 boys.  But, as David Cameron and Boris Johnson are faced with charges of arrogance, I can safely say that I was far from the only person at Eton without a sense of entitlement.  Unfortunately, it looks as if some of those with such a sense have embarked on a career in politics.

Eton gave me two things.  The first thing was the final catalyst for my ambition, which was already pretty superheated by the time I got there.  As a result, I tend to look upon much of what I have achieved so far as a failure to achieve my true potential. The second thing was a keen understanding of just how this part of the Establishment works.  Put simply, you are constantly in the presence of successful adults, be they teachers, parents, or the busts of 19 Prime Ministers.  The unspoken narrative is that, if you work your hardest, their success will one day be yours too.  And, long after you have left, many of their contacts and references may prove invaluable.

On reflection, I am not sure that I have said anything new.  But I have not yet heard a thoroughly convincing argument as to why my old school, and others like it – Wycombe Abbey, Westminster and St. Paul’s, to name but three – should continue to enjoy charitable status in the long run.  They are brands, who benefit an increasingly smaller section of society.  They are private schools, and perhaps the time is coming for the law to treat them as private enterprises.

This is not the only pressing problem that I have with Eton.  I hesitate to criticise the personal manners of others, as it implies that my own manners are without fault.  I must say, though, that I was often shocked by some of the snobbery I saw there, which on occasion took the breath away.  Most of my tutors were ruthless in calling it out, but you can’t undo some people’s upbringing in just a few years.  Had a few of my contemporaries ended up in the Bullingdon Club, I would not have been surprised.

When all’s said and done, I took issue with Ms. Mangan’s article for one reason: I didn’t go to Eton so that I could learn how to look down on other people.  I went there because I wanted to acquit myself against the best.  There is almost nothing more thrilling than putting yourself in the right position to thrive.  As a result, I entirely agree with her that there should be far greater diversity in the intake of Oxford, and Cambridge, and other universities.  I just hope that she is a little less gleeful when, stick in hand, she next enters the quadrangle.

 

Mo Farah and the two faces of Olympic legacy

Wow.  Well, well, well.  A truly euphoric day spent in the Olympic Park, on the last day of the Games’ athletics programme.  And now, the next morning, I’m sitting with my laptop propped on my duvet, trying to write before the pleasure of the previous twenty-four hours inevitably fades.  It feels like the final day of one of the best vacations I have ever taken.

These two weeks have been an impossible high that will soon subside.  And that’s fine.  No feeling of ecstasy can truly endure.  After all, even the greatest love affairs can’t maintain their initial breathlessness.  There are those first two weeks of almost every golden relationship when you can’t keep your eyes or your hands away from the other person.  However, after that glorious fortnight, your senses need to return to the world around you, much as you may still be loved-up. Hey, there are bills to pay and jobs to do.

But, like all great loves, the memory of this moment must endure.  Yesterday, I saw a version of Britain that I rarely see in the media.  And it was thrilling.  I saw volunteers, regularly working 14-15 hour days, powered by little more than pride in this city and their country and the warmth of their new community of peers.  I saw architecture as inspiring as anything I have seen in and around New York’s Central Park.  I saw people united in their love of competitors who actually seemed to become more humble the more that they achieved.

I also saw an Olympic Park that too few people were able to experience.  I had friends frantically contacting me at the last minute, asking me to help them sell wildly overpriced tickets that they had bought in haste.  I heard of local children who had worked on this project for three years prior to the arrival of the Games, but who were not granted the chance to step into the Park to see the extraordinary culmination of their efforts.

I saw fervent commerce: a monolithic McDonalds in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, a steady diet on whose fast food would be one sure way to deny admission as an athlete.  By contrast, I heard of Leyton market-traders sold expensive licences on the promise of Olympic business that never emerged.

All this, both good and bad, was the legacy of the Games.  The story of a truly astonishing spectacle made by countless hands; and the story of those who were swept aside as it was created.

Last night I watched Mo Farah win the men’s 5,000 metres final on a screen the size of a shopping mall, surrounded by thousands of similarly elated Brits.  For only the second time in my life – the first being the election of President Barack Obama, given the symbolism of that occasion – I was moved by a public spectacle to tears of joy.  That joy is fleeting, even though it still simmers in me as I write now.  It has lasted long enough, though, to remind me that there is a Britain out there which celebrates the good achievements of people regardless of where their parents came from; that there is a Britain out there, far from the sneering mouths of many, which lauds its often-lambasted youth for their wonderful work ethic.  It is a reminder that I needed, as it is a Britain that I do not see nearly enough of in public discourse.  For now, the memory of Mo will have to do.

“British”, a poem about Team GB and national pride at London 2012

I wrote and performed this poem for the BBC World Service Weekend programme, and it was broadcast on the last Saturday of the Olympic Games.  I thought I would post the text here.
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“British”

This is
What it means to be British –
To take part in a race,
Hoping to win –
But expecting a last-place finish.
Yes, this is British –
To make it all the way to a tie-break
And then brick it.
We are the world’s biggest optimists
Hidden inside the most hostile of cynics.
The glass in our crystal balls
Is overcast.

But maybe this has changed.
Maybe British now means –
Winning!
British is

Bradley Wiggins!
Hoy, Rutherford and Farah –
Jones, Murray, Ennis, Adams!
Maybe British is beating anyone – everyone –
Federer,
Et cetera!…
Maybe –
We should calm down.
With the exception of these two weeks,
It’s not every day that we’ll win a world crown.
But I hope that this next image will always be British –
We throw that house party that anyone can visit,
With guests from far and wide
Bringing any number of different dishes:
And when we’ve eaten, we stand awkwardly against the wall,
Until our guests tug us, smiling, into the middle of the floor.

The Independent on Sunday: The Olympics, cheating and the spirit of fair play

This article originally appeared in The Independent on Sunday, 5 August 2012.  The link is here: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/musa-okwonga-if-theyre-brits-we-call-it-tactics-if-not-its-cheating-8007570.html

Whenever competitors try to work around the rules of a sport, there is a thin line between being cute and being a cheat. Some athletes eye this line as carefully as they watch the edges of their own lanes: and others pole vault well clear of it. These Olympic Games have already seen plenty of participants both suspected of and criticised for morally dubious conduct. China’s Ye Shiwen, the 16-year old double gold medallist, has been found guilty until proven innocent of doping by the ever-reliable court of Western public opinion. That same court has been somewhat less quick to conclude that Katie Ledecky, the 15-year old winner of the 800m freestyle, has been generously assisted by chemical friends. Why Ledecky – a wholesome all-American prodigy with an apple-pie smile – has been subjected to less scrutiny than Shiwen is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, badminton players from China, Indonesia and South Koreahave been disqualified for trying to lose to their opponents, results which would have given them an easier draw in the following round. Great Britain’s joy at a cycling gold medal for its men’s sprint team was tempered by the revelation that Philip Hindes, who rode the team’s anchor lap, may have deliberately crashed in order to gain a restart for his team.

As is often the case, the responses to these events have been more revealing than the events themselves. Broadly speaking, the authorities have condemned their acts, while athletes and team coaches have been fairly sympathetic. China’s official delegation described them as “against the spirit of fair play”, as Alan Budikusuma, who had won an Olympic badminton gold for Indonesia, revealed to the BBC that he had been told by his coaches to lose matches to better his team’s chances. Elsewhere, British Cycling was quick to defend Hindes from any allegation of wrongdoing, suggesting his explanation for his crash – ” I did it on purpose to get a restart … So it was all planned, really” – was lost in translation, since Hindes, born in Germany, had only recently begun to learn English.

Hindes received qualified support from a surprising corner, in the form of the French coach Florian Rousseau. “There was no cheating,” said Rousseau. “However, I do think the rules need to be more precise … The fact that he [Hindes] did it on purpose is not very good for the image of cycling.”

Both cases seem at odds with the words of Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic Charter, which states: “Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport … in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” It’s fair to wonder, though, if De Coubertin’s vision as outlined in 1894 was impossibly idealistic. Many people will point slightly further back in time, to 1882 and the founding of the Corinthian Casuals football club, whose principles are seen as largely responsible for the modern idea of sportsmanship. Yet it’s important to note that the Casuals’ constitution, decreed the club should never take part in a competitive fixture. With respect, their vision of sport – as a wholly amateur pursuit – is possibly as far from the current incarnation of high-level athletics as could be imagined.

Rousseau, the French coach, instinctively knew this. Although he saw something ugly in Hindes’ alleged intent, he also understood the pressures brought to bear by professional sport. Perhaps, then, it is more accurate simply to accept that cunning, cuteness or cheating – whatever shade of subterfuge it happens to be – is merely part of human nature, and will emerge under the harshest conditions.

Indeed, our societies have long revered those who have been underhand in achieving their goals: Diego Maradona’s handball against England in the 1986 World Cup; more subtly, Michael Owen’s tumble for a penalty against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. In events where the margins for error are ever slimmer, being virtuous can be a huge impediment to winning.

Professor Lewis Hyde makes this point well in Trickster Makes This World, which examines the role of the artful dodger throughout history. He notes that “where someone’s sense of honorable behaviour has left him unable to act, trickster will appear to suggest an amoral action, something right/wrong that will get life going again”. Like a crashed bike, or a thrown badminton match.

However, those who would throw morality to the wind in pursuit of sporting glory should pause before they do so. Whenever athletes compete in elite events, they are fighting for two things: the first is the topmost place on the podium; the second is a legacy. It’s easier to win the first than the second. Ultimately, a gold medal is no fun if you cannot be forever feted for receiving it: there is no person more oddly lonely in sport than the bitter winner. In baseball, for example, the Hall of Fame denies access to those whom it considers to have brought the sport into disrepute, no matter how spectacular their achievements on the field.

Maybe that is why we can forgive our idols for the odd moment of corner-cutting, as many of us can relate to it. And why we are especially harsh on those, such as steroid-takers, who have forged entire careers on doping. To ensure they are remembered fondly, it is essential that sporting winners retain their dignity: and, with that in mind, it seems that Pierre de Coubertin was on to something.

Jessica, Mo, Greg, and snatching our flag back

Yesterday was one of the greatest days in the history of British sport, and I didn’t watch a single second of it.  Great Britain won six gold medals, and meanwhile I was spending six hours on a round-trip via coach to Birmingham, where I was performing at a poetry festival.  What’s more, at about half-six that evening, I was offered a ticket to the Olympic boxing: which would have been fine, but for the fact that I was over a hundred miles away at the time.  Timing, eh.

It was a tiring day of travel, and so I fell asleep on the crowded bus home, my novel untouched in the bag beside me.  I woke to the news on my Twitter feed that, in the space of one glorious evening, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford had won gold for Great Britain.  Somewhat saddened that I had not seen these victories in real time, I walked into Victoria train station, where I saw dozens of Union flags hanging from the ceiling of the concourse.  And then the funniest thing happened.  I broke into the widest possible smile.

This was a big thing for me.  Maybe even huge.  To be diplomatic, I have an awkward relationship with the Union flag.  It’s all those years in my teens when I saw it draped outside pubs as a warning for my sort to steer clear.  It’s all those times I saw it emblazoned across flyers for the British National Party, which every now and then found their way through my letterbox.  But there I was, grinning at those fluttering flags like a friend I’d not seen in years.

The Union flag had been kidnapped some time ago by the BNP.  But last night, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford snatched it back.  For me, Britishness – if it means anything – has always meant a sense of belonging to a greater whole, despite our disparate backgrounds.  In a society that is still so riven by class division and economic inequality, this is perhaps an aspiration rather than a reality, but that night in Victoria station it felt gloriously possible.  I have our wonderful gold medallists to thank for that.  And now, I think, it is time to go and watch their highlights.

Racism in Football: Buffy, McCammon, Ferdinand and Terry

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section, on 31 July 2012.  The link is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/31/racism-kicked-out-of-football-not?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

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The issue of racism in football is alive and well.  Mark McCammon, a professional footballer, has just successfully brought a case for racial victimisation against Gillingham, his former football club.  McCammon, who is black, was found by an employment tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed due to his race: this finding in his favour is the first of its type in English law.

Elsewhere, the issue of racism in football – in the form of the Ferdinand-Terry saga – is alive and dull.  Sometimes it feels like what this episode really needs is a vampire slayer: that it badly needs Buffy.  But she has retired, and so this stubbornly undead affair trundles on, with two of its own protagonists perhaps most weary of this drama.  The FA has charged Chelsea’s John Terry with the alleged use of abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand, contrary to FA rules.  This comes, of course, after Terry was found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a criminal trial.  More recently, the FA has also charged Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, with acting “in a way which was improper and/or bought the game into disrepute by making comments which included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race”.  This latter charge came after Ferdinand, the Manchester United defender, retweeted and laughed at a comment referring to Ashley Cole, the Chelsea and England defender, as a “choc ice”.

Some might say that this is minor compared to what McCammon suffered at Gillingham, who are due to appeal the finding of the tribunal.  “Now that’s real racial victimisation”, they might say.   What emerged from the Terry-Ferdinand trial was that, during that match between QPR and Chelsea on October 23rd, two grown men had traded insults in a childish spat, the likes of which you might find in a primary school playground at break-time.  Ashley Cole, when called to give evidence, was clearly exasperated. “We shouldn’t be sitting here”, he told the court, and many, having followed the trial closely, would be minded to agree with him.  At this point, in the manner of a popular chat-show, we can step back from the fray and ask – in an appropriately pompous tone – What We Have All Learned.

There is nothing much new that has been learned about Anton Ferdinand, save his somewhat unimaginative choice of abuse.  There is nothing new that we have learned about John Terry.  Those with good or bad feelings towards him prior to this latest round of charges will feel much the same about him now.  The same goes for Rio Ferdinand, although it is a minor mystery that a renowned authoritarian such as Sir Alex Ferguson allows one of his players to be so prolific and so vociferous on Twitter.  But I think that a great deal more has been learned about the FA, and its attitude to racism in football.

To use a well-worn analogy, that of Charles Dickens’ “The Tale of Two Cities”, this affair has shown the FA in the best of lights, and in the worst of lights.  This affair has shown the FA in the best of lights, in their decision to charge Rio Ferdinand for his conduct on Twitter.  If they had done otherwise, they would have opened themselves to the accusation that the only type of racially offensive slur that they found acceptable was that made by a white person about a black person’s skin colour.  While this charge may to some appear trivial, I believe that it is consistent, and therefore fitting.  It shows that the FA is determined to be exhaustive in its efforts to address any form of racial discrimination in football.

In one key respect, this affair has shown the FA in the worst of lights.  Though John Terry was well within his rights to seek a postponement of the trial until after the Euro 2012, I believe that the FA should have made him unavailable for selection during that time.  This would not have foreshadowed his guilt: of course, in any criminal trial the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  Instead, the FA would have shown everyone that the disciplinary process takes priority over everything, including football: which, after all, is just another form of employment, if more glamorous than most.  However, the FA did not have the bravery to take this opportunity.

There will presumably be several players out there who have suffered racial discrimination in football, and who will anxiously be watching how the FA handles the final stages of this issue. They will be hoping that the FA plods scrupulously and rather more bravely through every stage of the process.