Almost exactly a year after John Terry uttered those now infamous three words in the direction of Anton Ferdinand, the case has likely finally been closed with the Chelsea captain declining the chance to appeal his punishment from the Football Association.
Closed? Yes. Closure? Far from it.
As Terry reluctantly accepted his punishment of a four-match ban and a £220,000 fine, Chelsea announced their punishment—or rather revealed that they were disciplining the player but without saying quite how they would do so.
So what punishment can we expect from a club for one of their employees found guilty by an independent panel of racially abusing a fellow professional? Will he be Sacked? Not a chance. Stripped of the captaincy? Don’t count on it.
The fact that they are keeping it behind closed doors means the punishment at most looks all but certain to be an insignificant fine and perhaps even as minor as a slap on the wrist accompanied by a wink that suggests that it was merely for the benefit of public relations.
True, some will point out that Terry was found innocent in a criminal court, but the burden of proof is far higher there than in the FA’s investigation. It is also worthy to note the words of the chief magistrate in the criminal case, Howard Riddle, who claimed that he found Terry’s version of events—that he was merely repeating an accusation leveled at him by Ferdinand—“inherently unlikely.”
It would be remiss to claim that Chelsea appearing to take what could be best described as a lenient stance toward Terry suggests that the club takes as lax an attitude toward the banding about of racially aggravated abuse as their captain. No, closer the truth is surely that they, like an all too large a section of the soccer world, are acting purely in self-interest.
Terry is a valuable asset, worshiped to a sometimes bizarre level of fanaticism by many of the club’s supporters, and the powers that be will not risk disrupting the club to make a stand against the scourge of racism.
In May this year, Chelsea banned a supporter for life for directing racial abuse toward a player during their FA Cup semifinal with Tottenham. In a statement announcing the punishment, Chelsea said:
“Chelsea FC and the overwhelming majority of our fans abhor all forms of discrimination and believe they have no place in our club or our communities.”
Abhor it so much that the club supported their captain throughout the past year and only uttered any words even approaching condemnation when Terry was forced to accept his punishment after his defense had been called “improbable, implausible and contrived,” by the independent panel. And a large selection of Chelsea fans abhor it so much that they vocally and ardently supported Terry throughout and many even decided that it was right to abuse the man that their captain was accused of racially insulting.
Chelsea fans are far from alone in displaying these depressing examples of supporting their team no matter what. Blind devotion is an ailment that afflicts and denigrates all areas of society and it is present throughout soccer to a disturbing degree.
As a club, Chelsea are also not alone in their double standards. Their history, however, provides such rich evidence of it that it is hard to ignore.
In 2004, Adrian Mutu was sacked by Chelsea after testing positive for cocaine and at the time claimed that "We want to make clear that Chelsea has a zero tolerance policy towards drugs."
So Chelsea was apparently prepared to sack a player to prove their “zero tolerance towards drugs,” but not to show their zero tolerance toward racism.
Ignoring for a second the relative offenses of racially abusing another human being compared with snorting cocaine into your own bloodstream, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Chelsea sacked Mutu because it suited them. The player, signed from Parma for £15.8 million just over a year earlier had fallen out with then boss Jose Mourinho and had been frozen out of the first team. What’s more, Chelsea relentlessly went after the Romanian for compensation amounting to close to the full value of his transfer fee—money which they are highly unlikely to have received were they to have sold the player on the open market.
The same benefits do not currently exist for sacking a player in Terry who has been a focal point of the club for a decade.
The examples do not end there. Earlier this year, Chelsea sacked 21-year-old midfielder Jacob Mellis for letting off a smoke bomb in a reserve team dressing room. That punishment contrasts sharply with the announcement that star left-back Ashley Cole would—like Terry—face internal discipline for shooting a student on work placement with an air rifle at Chelsea’s training ground last year.
It is not hard to see the pattern that emerges in these cases. Smoke bomb versus shooting with an air rifle, Cocaine versus racial abuse—the dramatic differences in the punishments handed out for these offenses is clearly not related to the scale of the crimes, but rather the level of importance that the perpetrator held for Chelsea Football Club.
That hypocrisy pervades the world of soccer. Just this week, people all over England reacted in uproar at the racial abuse that is alleged to have been directed at black members of the England Under-21 team by fans and opposition players in Serbia. Now if those accusations prove true then severe action is clearly needed. But, one wonders how many of those up in arms had also stood at Stamford Bridge and Anfield offering their impassioned support to John Terry and Luis Suarez after their respective charges for racially abusing an opponent.
Soccer has the power to do an incredible amount of good throughout the world, but only when it loses some of its unflinching tribalism and commitment to self-interest can it truly be a force for change in society.