|Awkward dressing room chats ahead - Anton Ferdinand's older brother Rio Ferdinand, above left, has long been John Terry's defensive partner for England [GALLO/GETTY]
Regardless of whether he is found guilty of a racism charge, John Terry must be stripped of the England captaincy ahead of next year’s European Championships.
With the Football Association already probing the claims of Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand against the Chelsea centre back, British police launched their own investigation this week into what really happened during the ill-tempered west London derby on October 23.
Terry’s lame defence is that the racist slur against Ferdinand only came out of his mouth while he was aggressively denying that he’d used it at all.
This would make little difference to Ferdinand who would simply have preferred that the hateful words about him were not polluting the air at Loftus Road in the first place.
Terry is trying to wriggle out of trouble on a technicality.
It is a little like former US President Bill Clinton putting on his lawyer’s hat a dozen or so years ago to make his infamous denial of sexual relations with former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky – or previously insisting that he smoked marijuana but “didn’t inhale”.
Like President Clinton, Terry is skirting around the truth as he argues about definitions. In the end, it came back to haunt the former Arkansas governor and it is likely to do the same for the 71-cap veteran.
When it comes to offensive expletives in relation to race, religion or culture in the sports’ arena, there must be a zero tolerance policy. In any context, these kind of insults are simply taboo. They cannot be casually slipped into passing conversation as Terry claims happened last month.
Already, England’s build-up to one major championship - the 2010 World Cup - was affected by Terry’s antics. His alleged affair with the partner of his former teammate Wayne Bridge saw the latter hastily announce his international retirement a few months before the opening matches in South Africa.
Fabio Capello’s side seemed a far from harmonious unit at the FIFA showcase last year. And Terry’s latest indiscretion has the potential to destabilise the squad in an even greater way ahead of Euro 2012.
For a start, Anton Ferdinand is the younger brother of Rio, Terry’s long-time international defensive cohort. And even if Terry escapes a guilty charge, how much will the scandal play on the minds of England’s prominent black players, including Ashley Young, Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe?
A captain is supposed to unite and not divide. Already, there are reports of a north/south split with the England squad as players from clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool grapple for power with the Londoners led by Terry and Blues’ teammate Frank Lampard.
October was a bleak month in terms of the English Premier League’s reputation as a poster-child for racial harmony. The Terry controversy came just eight days after disturbing allegations from Manchester United’s Patrice Evra against Liverpool striker Luis Suarez at Anfield. Then, on October 30, a racist remark was directed towards Newcastle forward Sammy Ameobi via Twitter.
|Former Arsenal and England defender Viv Anderson suggests harsh financial penalties for those guilty of racism in football [GETTY]
“I thought we’d stamped out most of the racism in our game so I was very surprised by these incidents coming so close together,” said Viv Anderson, who became the first black player to represent England at senior level in 1978.
“It has mainly been a problem in Europe in recent times because, with so many black faces in English clubs, a lot has changed for the better over the past 30 years.”
During a professional career of more than two decades, Anderson earned 30 international caps and played for six clubs including Arsenal, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest.
Whether you are dealing with an England captain like John Terry or a little-known lower-league player, Anderson insists that slapping offenders with financial sanctions is the best deterrent.
“There should be big fines for anybody or any association who use any form of racism,” he said.
“I don’t mean just a few thousand pounds here and there… it should be big. Hit them where it hurts, in the pocket.’
When Anderson burst onto the scene with Forest in the mid 1970s, Brian Clough was his manager. Anderson regularly copped abuse from opponents many times worse than that allegedly suffered by Ferdinand and Evra.
“How I dealt with it was to ignore it and just get on playing my best as the late great Brian Clough told me to,” he said.
“Then, like now, how to police racist abuse on the field is a tricky question. It must come from the players so we need more education of the kids to make them more aware of racism.”
As well as education, kids need role models.
So we shudder at the kind of example that the national captain and skipper of one of Europe’s biggest clubs is giving to England’s rising stars. With the likes of Terry, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole to follow, what incentive does the next generation have to carve a more ethical path?
Should he be found guilty of racism, Terry should not only have the skipper’s armband taken away – he should never play for his country again. That will leave a message to the English game that will resonate for generations to come.
Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever (http://www.footballfeverpodcast.com/), the world's first international football podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
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