Tag Archive for Anton Ferdinand

T-Shirt or Not T-Shirt: Kick It Out and Jason Roberts

The key symbol of racism in football this week is not the handshake, it is the T-shirt.  Jason Roberts has refused to wear his Kick It Out T-shirt this weekend in protest that the organisation has not done enough to combat racial discrimination in the sport.  As the Reading striker told BBC Sport, “I’m totally committed to kicking racism out of football but when there’s a movement I feel represents the issue in the way that speaks for me and my colleagues, then I will happily support it…I think people feel let down by what used to be called ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’. People don’t feel like they have been strong enough.”  Roberts’ announcement comes a week after David James castigated anti-racism groups for trying to justify their existence by exaggerating the issue.  All in all, it has not been a good few days for Kick It Out.

The organisation may then have been grateful for Sir Alex Ferguson’s support.  In a press conference today, the Manchester United manager criticised Roberts, saying that “I think he is making the wrong point…Everyone should be united, with all the players in the country wearing the Kick It Out warm-up tops…”  He added: “I don’t know what point he is trying to make. I don’t know if he is trying to put himself on a different pedestal from everyone. But he really should be supporting all the rest of the players who are doing it…”When you do something, and everyone believes in it, you should all do it together. There shouldn’t be sheep wandering off. [My italics]”

Ferguson’s metaphor is an interesting one.  Roberts would rather not be the sheep who blindly followed an orthodoxy he did not share.  He would rather, one suspects, be the sheep that many argue that England’s Danny Rose should have been earlier this week, by walking off in the Under-21 game against Serbia after receiving racial abuse.  Ferguson’s call for unity is a powerful and timely one, but it must be viewed against Roberts’ own frustration, which is overwhelming.  His view is that football’s authorities have been too slow and too soft in dealing with the recent Suarez and Terry cases, and he believes Kick It Out to be primarily at fault.

I have worked with Kick It Out – whose name has been changed to address all forms of discrimination in football, not just racism – and I have found them to be a very smart, very diligent group.  We worked together on a campaign to address homophobic chanting at football matches, and the experience was a revealing one, for two reasons.  First, though they had a series of excellent ideas, they were working within very considerable constraints: they were only granted a small five-figure sum for a promotional video.  Secondly, they were operating on something of a leash.  That same video, carefully crafted with the assistance of advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, was then pulled at the last moment by the FA, who were apparently worried about its controversial content.  The only reason that the video ever saw the light of day was that it was leaked to BBC Newsnight.

Kick It Out therefore operate in an atmosphere of caution and confinement.  As they have stated today, “certain myths and misinformation about Kick It Out’s remit have been laid down…We are not a decision-making organisation with power and resource as some people think, and can only work effectively in the context of these partnerships” [My italics].

The last sentence says it all.  In its own words, it is “a small campaigning charity” working in partnership with football’s leading authorities.  There are only seven of them.  Last year they had a budget of just over £450,000, of which £330,000 (about 73%) was provided by the FA, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Premier League.  Kick It Out does not have the influence and independence to speak unbridled truth to power.  Nor was it ever meant to.  Roberts’ important contention is that the current system is ineffectual; the football’s governing authorities cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, and are in need of more robust checks and balances.  Kick It Out are unfortunate in that their success in gaining visibility has made them the public emblem of all efforts to fight discrimination in football; and that they are thus the unlucky anvil on which Roberts has chosen to beat out his point.

 

On John Terry and racial abuse

So the verdict is out. An Independent Regulatory Commission has adjudged John Terry to have used “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand and which included a reference to colour and/or race” contrary to the Football Association’s rules.

Terry has been given a penalty of a four-match ban from domestic football and a fine of £220,000; his penalty is suspended until after the outcome of any appeal, should he choose to make one.

Though the full written reasons for this verdict have not yet been released, the Commission’s decision does not come as a shock.

The difficulty that the prosecution faced at John Terry’s criminal trial for the alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand was the burden of proof, which was in that case insurmountable – there needed to be no reasonable doubt that Terry had said these words and meant them to be offensive.

Here, the bar was far lower: it needed only to be a question of being more likely than not that Terry had meant to abuse or insult Anton Ferdinand with the phrase “f**king black c*nt”.

Even at the first trial, the presiding judge considered that the prosecution had built “a strong case” and that there was certainly a case to answer. On that logic, the finding of proven misconduct does not seem to be an unreasonable one.

There is great controversy over the length of Terry’s ban. Some have raised concerns that it is only one match longer than a player would be suspended for a red card offence. Others, more pointedly, have drawn a direct parallel with the punishment that the FA handed out to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, having ruled that he had made a series of racially offensive comments to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

Following a protracted and highly controversial case, Suarez was handed an eight-game ban, and a fine of £40,000. At first glance, the discrepancy in suspensions is startling. Yet the crucial paragraph of the Suarez-Evra judgment seems to be paragraph 411, which states that “Given the number of times that Mr Suarez used the word “negro”, his conduct is significantly more serious than a one-off use of a racially offensive term and amounts to an aggravating factor”.

The logic seems to be that if Terry had repeatedly used the offensive phrase in question, then he would have found himself suspended for a similar period.
Of additional, if brief, interest is the size of the fine levelled at John Terry. Though £220,000 may be, as several have remarked on Twitter, just under a fortnight’s wages for Terry, it remains a very considerable sum of money.

Indeed, if there is any inconsistency, it is here: it is unclear – without the aid of written reasons – why Terry’s one-off utterance earned him a fine five-and-a-half times that of Suarez, who was adjudged to have made a series of racially offensive remarks. Until we see such reasons, we can at best leave a question mark over this area of the process.

Perhaps, the key element in all this, though, is the non-financial price paid by John Terry: and that, ultimately, has been very significant. The FA, had it been harsher, could have denied him the opportunity to represent his country at the Euro 2012 tournament, or to play a leading role in Chelsea’s FA Cup and UEFA Champions League triumphs.

Indeed, some of Terry’s comments have implied such a harshness, whilst in the circumstances the FA seem to have been very accommodating of his concerns.

The greatest cost that Terry faced, as did Suarez, was to his reputation, which is why it would be somewhat surprising if he did not appeal this decision.

Terry’s standing in the eyes of many will not be greatly altered by this verdict – there are many within his club who will swear by his day-to-day kindness and considerate manner around the place, just as there are many more outside Stamford Bridge who are convinced of his unpleasantness.

We will probably never know quite how he was regarded within the England dressing-room when he decided to retire from international football. However, the suspicion is that if everyone associated with the national side had been as vociferous in their support of him as Roy Hodgson, then he might still be available for selection.

Whilst it seems premature to consider this battle over, it does appear that, in one sense, there has been a winner: and that is the FA.

It has shown, if somewhat falteringly, a rare fortitude over the last few months. In the face of tremendous pressure from some of the world’s biggest clubs, it has shown a persistence of which many commentators thought it incapable.

Many will dispute the FA’s findings – whether Suarez said what he said, what Terry actually meant, whether choc-ice is a disreputable phrase – but few can recall a time when this institution has gone into more exhaustive detail, and then made its decisions open to such furious scrutiny.

The Terry verdict was guaranteed to cause displeasure to almost everyone who received it: but the FA is to be commended for bringing the matter this far, towards some measure of closure.

This article originally appeared for MSN Sport on 27 September 2012, titled “There’s only one winner – the FA”, at the following link:

http://sport.uk.msn.com/socialvoices/blogpost.aspx?post=a49c30b6-ad4f-417d-89d4-3e1784021b22

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.