Five years ago, John Terry was found guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand by an independent regulatory commission.
The FA’s enquiry took place after Terry had been found not guilty in court, where it couldn’t be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the former England and Chelsea captain had called Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt”.
There was video evidence of the incident and expert lip-readers claimed that they believed Terry had used the racial slur. Terry never denied using the words, although insisted they formed part of a question, rather than an insult. He claims that he believed Ferdinand was accusing him of saying that and he was merely repeating it back to check he had heard correctly. Believable, right?
In his summing up, the chief magistrate said that Terry’s defence was “unlikely” as the words were “sandwiched between other undoubted insults.” Yet, while Terry’s version seems implausible, the prosecution didn’t provide the court with the evidence to prove guilt.
The FA have a lower burden of proof though, so it was easy for them to find him guilty. They only had to look at the first interview they conducted with him.
Terry was asked ‘can you remember what you said to him?’ and he replied, ‘I think it was something along the lines of ‘you black cunt, you fucking knobhead.’
In an interview with The Daily Mail, Terry changed his story, claiming he said ‘Do you think I called you a fucking black cunt?’ which was his version of events for court too.
Days before the FA’s decision to find Terry guilty was announced, he retired from international football and claimed the FA had made made his position “untenable”. I mean, it was probably the racial abuse that did that, actually, but whatever.
While the FA put his nose out of joint by not letting him have everything his own way, Terry should have been grateful that he had been permitted to continue playing for England at all in the lead up to the verdict.
Despite the world seeing the footage of Terry racially abusing Ferdinand, the FA were happy for him to continue playing, despite the trial hanging over his head. It was this decision from the FA which lead to Anton’s brother, Rio, missing out on Euro 2012. With it seemingly impossible for the pair to share a dressing room, Roy Hodgson picked Terry and left out Ferdinand, who had been the starting centre-back for the team denied the title on goal difference alone, finishing 25 points ahead of Terry’s Chelsea.
Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott and Gary Cahill were all preferred to Ferdinand for “footballing reasons”, Hodgson insisted.
The FA fined Terry £220,000 and banned him for four games. Had Terry not chosen to retire, the FA had no problems with the national team being captained by someone they had found guilty of racial abuse, as long as he sat out a few games first.
FIFA banned Luis Suarez for four months for biting Giorgio Chiellini and Rio Ferdinand was banned by the FA for eight months for missing a drugs test. The FA banned Don Revie for 10 years after he travelled to Dubai to discuss the possibility of taking charge of the UAE national team when England manager, although a court later overturned their decision.
But your captain racially abusing someone? Four games.
One of the more frustrating elements of the discussion that followed Suarez being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra is the insistence there is no video footage of the incident to prove any wrong doing. Even The Guardian managed to make this error, saying: “after three days of video evidence at a three-man Independent Regulatory Commission, lip readers produced no hard evidence that he said what he was accused of saying.”
However, unlike Terry in court, Suarez admitted what he said , so no lip readers were needed. We don’t need footage to determine that Suarez racially abused Evra.
Another irritating response is: “Yeh, but negrito isn’t even a racist term.” Cool, but Suarez didn’t say “negrito”, he said “negro”.
Ahead of the FA publishing their report, some sections of the media pondered over the outcome and suggested that maybe the word Suarez had used was “negrito”. It wasn’t. Evra accused Suarez of calling him a “negro” and Suarez admitted that’s what he said. The major difference in their version of events was the context in which this was said.
In parts of Southern America, “negro” is used as a term of endearment between friends. It can be used in a jokey manner between mates and if used in a “conciliatory” way, it wouldn’t be deemed as racist. And let’s not forget, Suarez has black relatives, so by default can’t be racist, right?
The language experts, who specialise in South American Spanish and Portuguese, were very clear that “negro” could certainly be used as a racist insult, depending on who was saying it to who and why.
In this incidence, the exchange of the word “negro” didn’t take place between friends. It took place in the midst of a heated football game between two teams that hate each other. It took place during an argument, with Evra angry with Suarez for kicking him, and Suarez keen to antagonise Evra further by pinching him.
The language experts expressed absolutely no doubt over Suarez being guilty. In the context the word was used, it was racist, and Suarez’s explanation made no sense.
“This is the time when Luis Suarez needs our full support,” Dalglish said after the verdict. “Let’s not let him walk alone.” On the day of the incident, Dalglish also falsely accused Evra of making accusations of racism before. Sir Alex Ferguson later suggested it was Dalglish’s poor response to this incident that cost him his job.
“We find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone,” read a Liverpool statement. They clearly hadn’t followed the case. The decision wasn’t made based on Evra’s statement alone, rather Suarez’s confession.
Suarez was banned for eight games and fined £40,000.
Read the FA’s report in full – really, please do.
Anton Ferdinand can feel aggrieved that Terry was only banned for four games and that his brother missed out on an international tournament as a result of the racist abuse he suffered. Evra might have been frustrated that Suarez was fined a paltry £40,000, a third of his weekly salary.
But Eni Aluko is entitled to feel the biggest disappointment at the way she has been treated by the FA.
In May 2016, she was contacted by Dan Ashworth, the FA technical director, to take part in a “culture review”. Despite feeling as though the manager of the England women’s national team, Mark Sampson, was guilty of treating black players differently, she never voiced this until prompted by the FA. However, when asked, she talked about her experiences and paid the price with her England career.
Among a list of incidents where white players were treated more favourably than black players, including the customary celebratory 50th caps being forgotten when the player wasn’t white, she revealed that England goalkeeping coach Lee Kendall used to speak to her in a fake Caribbean accent. While this still would have been totally unacceptable even if she came from the Caribbean, the fact she was born in Nigeria makes this behaviour all the more appalling.
There were a number of occasions where she felt as though she was treated badly and was belittled by Sampson, but one stood out. She told how he had made a comment about her family having ebola after telling him they were coming from Nigerian to watch her play.
‘Nigeria? Make sure they don’t bring Ebola with them.’
In a team meeting, he made a comment about the arrest record Drew Spence when making an analogy about getting a police caution when talking about pressing.
‘You’ve been arrested before, haven’t you? Four times, isn’t it?’
Spence was the only mixed race player in the room and he didn’t make assumptions or comments about any of the other players. Out of interest, she has never been arrested, but was left feeling isolated and embarrassed.
Sampson was cleared of any wrong-doing by an internal investigation though, prompting the PFA to act. They described the internal enquiry as “not a genuine search of the truth” and “a sham which was designed to establish the truth but intended to protect Mark Sampson”.
An independent enquiry was then commissioned by the FA and overseen by the barrister Katharine Newton. Martin Glenn, the Football Association’s chief executive, admitted the organisation deliberately chose a black woman to investigate Aluko’s allegations.
The FA were able to pat themselves on the back when Newton also concluded that Sampson wasn’t guilty of any wrong-doing.
Spence wasn’t spoken to in either investigation. This was excused by Aluko not giving the player’s name, as requested by Spence, in her initial discussion with the FA. However, it would have taken minutes for Newton to learn the identity of the player at that meeting, given she was the only player who wasn’t white in attendance. Even if she failed to note Spence was the player being referred to, it would have been easy enough to ask any number of the midfield players present at the meeting who overheard the comment.
A week after Aluko spoke to the culture review, her England career was ended, when Sampson paid a visit to the Chelsea training ground to tell her she wouldn’t be called up because of her “unlioness behaviour”. Sampson cited her attitude in the last camp as the reason why she wouldn’t be allowed to add to her 102 caps. Aluko won the Golden Boot as the leading scorer in the country that season.
Just 24 hours after another meeting with the FA, Aluko, who is a qualified lawyer, received an e-mail from the FA telling her that her work as a sports lawyer for a football agency was set to be investigated. Subtlety clearly isn’t a strong suit of the FA.
With sections of the media questioning the legitimacy of Aluko’s claims and fans on social media asking for proof, her name was dragged through the dirt. You have to wonder how Aluko felt when watching her former teammates jump on Sampson in celebration during their game against Russia in their opening Women’s World Cup qualifier. The pictures looked fairly appalling at the time and they really haven’t aged well. Still, the refusal of those players to offer Aluko support, and instead rally around Sampson, only added strength to those doubting her claims.
Yet the Chelsea striker might have some peace, at last, following a third investigation which concluded on Wednesday and finished with the FA “sincerely apologising” to Aluko and Spence.
Second time round, Newton could confirm that Sampson did treat Aluko “less favourably than he would have treated player who was not of African descent”.
Newton also confirmed that, having now bothered to talk to Spence and other players present, that Sampson did talk about the player being arrested. The former manager, who has since been sacked for inappropriate relationships with players at a previous post, had denied both accusations but Newton was now able to conclude he was lying, with three players confirming this to be the case.
In comparison with the aforementioned incidents with Ferdinand and Evra, intersectionality plays its part here with Aluko, targeted as a black woman. Playing in sport dominated by lad culture, the pressure to laugh off racism as just a joke or a bit of banter was even greater for her.
Greg Clarke, the FA chairman, met with Aluko recently and told her they would only pay out on the settlement they agreed with her if she would release a statement to confirm that the FA “wasn’t institutionally racist”. She felt as though she was being blackmailed and refused to write the statement.
She revealed that Clarke, was “dismissive and disrespectful” of her. When the PFA e-mailed him to say the initial enquiry wasn’t a genuine search for the truth, he replied: ‘I’ve no idea why you are sending me this. Perhaps you could enlighten me?’ Nice.
Aluko asks would Clarke take the “same attitude to such serious grievances if it involved a senior male England player with 102 caps?”
The answer to that question isn’t simple though. While you may presume a male would be treated better it’s hard to claim emphatically that any black player would get a fair deal from the FA.
In summary, the conclusion isn’t totally satisfactory. For starters, it has taken three separate investigations for the truth to come out, with Aluko’s reputation questioned and her international playing career ended.
Also, Newton is keen to stress that Sampson is “not racist”. To assert that a person is capable of treating someone differently because they’re of African descent while also not being racist is a puzzling statement. Even outside of looking at racism as a systemic issue, which defines racism much more accurately than merely racist abuse, a person treating someone differently because of their race is quite plainly the dictionary definition of racism.
Still, Aluko seemed in good spirits following the gruelling day, tweeting: “grateful to share my experience hoping to generate change. It has to happen now!”
You think? How many times do the FA have to get it wrong before they get it right?
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