Tag Archive for Rio Ferdinand

Pride and Prejudice: Kick It Out, Ferdinand, Ferguson and the FA

The story is now so well-known that I will not dwell on it too long.  Yesterday, Rio Ferdinand, in defiance of his manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s wishes, refused to wear a Kick It Out T-shirt.  His refusal was due to the fact that he, like his fellow protester Jason Roberts, felt that football’s authorities were not doing enough to combat racism within the game.  Since Kick It Out – whose work is tireless, but whose remit and influence is sorely limited – derives the overwhelming majority of its funding from the FA, the PFA and the Premier League, Ferdinand identified them as the symbol of his discontent. Ferguson spoke afterwards of his embarrassment at Ferdinand’s refusal to toe the party line, and of his intention to punish Ferdinand. Whether that punishment will take the form of a fine or a fierce talking-to is still anyone’s guess.

A widespread view is that Ferguson – who, it must be noted, steadfastly supported Ferdinand throughout the Terry case – has got this call wrong, in that he has put his own pride ahead of Ferdinand’s anger at the FA’s perceived weakness in dealing with prejudice.  I will add two points here.

First, the protest that Roberts and Ferdinand are making appears to be against the enabling of racism by football’s institutions.  That is a far more difficult animal to tackle than racism from the crowds.  A monkey chant is readily identifiable by audio or video.  It is easy, comforting and cathartic to unite against the monkey chanter because the monkey chanter is outside football.  He or she is in the crowd and can simply and summarily be excluded from the game.  But what – and here is the more uncomfortable question – if there are those in senior positions in the game who actively or passively enable racist behaviour?  Joleon Lescott has not worn a Kick It Out T-Shirt since 2007, when he was at Everton. This is not because he is angry at racist chanting from the crowds.  This is because he felt that the authorities should have been stronger in dealing with Emre, the Turkey midfielder then at Newcastle United, who allegedly directed racist abuse at Joseph Yobo, Lescott’s fellow defender.  In this case, for which Lescott provided written evidence, Emre escaped punishment.  Lescott has found far less support or publicity for his stance than those who support the wearing of Kick It Out T-Shirts.  But it may be that his stance is of equal importance.  What is more, given that football is a self-regulating sport, there is no organisation with the independence to defend his position tirelessly.

Secondly, it is notable that high-profile black and mixed-race players, either still playing or as pundits, are themselves divided over the T-shirt controversy.  Viv Anderson, the first black footballer to play for England, and Ian Wright believe that no-one should have boycotted the T-shirt.  David James, whilst criticising the “anti-racism industry”, believes that the FA were too slow to deal with the John Terry affair, particularly in the light of the revelation by the Crown Prosecution Service that they did not delay the FA from taking speedier proceedings against John Terry.

I wonder whether there is something of a generational divide between Britain’s ethnic minority footballers: between the older guard, who remember racism as being far more overt and shocking, and the younger crowd, who have emerged into a world where most of football’s demons with regards to race have been swept aside (or, cynically speaking, under the carpet).  I wonder whether the older guard look at the younger group of protesters and think, “it was far worse in my day; toe the line and build on the advances that we painstakingly made.”  And I wonder whether the younger ones think, “yes, but we have more freedom today to say what you couldn’t.  The time for biting our lips is past”.

The older guard would have had to deal with colleagues who were initially either racist or ignorant but who have over time become loved or trusted friends.  They would have had to help these colleagues to work through their prejudices, a process that would have taken great patience and which in any case would have been necessary for the furtherance of their careers. As Bob Hazell, the former professional footballer for Wolves, Leicester, QPR and Port Vale tweeted earlier today, “me & my generation spoke about ‘ignoring it’ and ‘it inspires us to play better’.  We never spoke of feeling hurt devalued and fucking angry.’”  Back then, that was just the way things were.  They had to compromise.  The younger crowd would have grown up in a world where racism was not the norm, it was abhorrent, and so are more confident to call it out.  They have not had to compromise nearly so much.  In that context, why should they engage in what they see, quite literally, as an exercise in window-dressing?

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.