Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The John Terry Affair

To tackle one thing right off the bat, I abhor racism in all its forms.  I don't like what John Terry is alleged to have said (and the intent with which he allegedly said it) and if it was true he deserves to be punished.  Behaviour like that is unacceptable.  

However, the point of this post is not to discuss whether he did or didn't use racially offensive terms - there are two bodies who have already discussed this and come to their own conclusions which are now being played out in the media.   This post is looking at the FA's role in all this.  

Okay, the facts of the case as we understand them via the media and official FA report.

On 23rd October 2011, in a game between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea football clubs, an incident occurred in the last 10 minutes of the match.   Tensions were running high, Chelsea had already had two players sent off and it is alleged that John Terry used racist language towards Anton Ferdinand.    Around one hour later, John Terry requested that Ferdinand come to the Chelsea dressing room to meet with him and Ashley Cole, Terry's team mate.  Terry specifically questioned Ferdinand saying "do you think I racially abused you?'"  Ferdinand denied hearing anything, the two shook hands and parted.

On 22nd December, John Terry was charged with racially aggravated public order offence.  

Shortly after the first court appearance in early 2012, the criminal trial was delayed until after the European Football Championships.   Terry was stripped of the captaincy and the England coach at the time - Fabio Cappello - resigned.

A full trial took place between 9th and 13th July where - in a court of law - John Terry was acquitted of the charge.

On 27th July, the FA completely ignored regulation 6.8 of their own Disciplinary Regulations and charged Terry with misconduct pursuant to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race.

Rule 6.8 in full:   "“In any proceedings before a Regulatory Commission, the Regulatory Commission shall not be obliged to follow the strict rules of evidence, may admit such evidence as it thinks fit and accord such evidence such weight as it thinks appropriate in all the circumstances. Where the subject matter of a complaint or matter before the Regulatory Commission has been the subject of previous civil or criminal proceedings, the result of such proceedings and the facts and matters upon which such result is based shall be presumed to be correct and the facts presumed to be true unless it is shown, by clear and convincing evidence, that this is not the case.”

Terry replied to the charge on 3rd August, denying it and raising a number of preliminary issues including the validity of the charge.   He challenged the jurisdiction of the FA to bring disciplinary proceedings against him (having already been acquitted in a court of law).   These were 'dealt with' at two preliminary issues hearings by the FA Chairman of the Commission, 'sitting alone'.

There then follows a desperate justification for why the FA has decided to position itself higher than a court of law, in turns echoing and undermining the legal ruling as it suits their case.

The FA added in the 'Barcelona' evidence for context.  This relates to an incident in a completely different game, months later, where Terry was sent off in a European Champions League semi final after clearly kneeing a player in the back.  Immediately after leaving the field of play, he allegedly told a touchline reporter "I did not deliberately strike the player".   There is no suggestion that race / ethnicity played any part in this incident.

Objection was made to rule this inadmissible but (from the official ruling) 'as strict rules of evidence to not apply to FA disciplinary proceedings', the material was allowed to be included.   No direct evidence was received by the touchline reporter (or any other witnesses) but it was used to add context and reaffirm the FA's decision. that a football player lost his self control.

The FA fall just short of calling Ashley Cole a liar in section 7 of their report, saying that his evidence 'evolved'.   Two FA officials visited Chelsea to interview Terry, Cole and John Obi Mikel.   Only John Terry's interview was tape recorded.   In addition, the written notes of the initial interview with Cole was only released to the 'defence' just before the disciplinary case began.

The hearing happened, John Terry was given a fine of well over £200,000 and banned for 4 matches).

So, a sorry tale.

Regardless of their attempts at self-justification, the FA seem to be trying to position themselves as a 'higher' court than that of the British judicial system.   They've seen the evidence and the not guilty ruling in a court of law but have decided that they will do a better job, despite their own admitted lower standards of proof, of lower standards of admissible evidence and - contrary to the legal ruling - effectively dismissing corroborating evidence from one of Terry's team mates - something the court of law didn't do.

Now again, this post is not about whether Terry is guilty.   Personally, I'm not a Terry fan (or indeed a Chelsea fan) but the way he has been treated by the FA, having already been acquitted in a British law court is astonishing.

As a footnote, when Ashley Cole learned about his evidence being called into question, he 'tweeted' the following:    "Hahahahaa, well done #fa I lied did I, #BUNCHOFTWATS".  

The message was then deleted and an unreserved apology was made to the FA (despite them casting significant doubts on his character). 

The FA have since chosen to charge Ashley Cole with misconduct;   more posturing since - the day after charging him - they announced he wouldn't face charges.   Having spoken to David Bernstein,the FA Chairman commented:  "He showed real remorse. I looked him in the eye and I accept that. He is free to play for England." 

Draw your own conclusions from the whimsical repression.

Having re-read a very famous book by Lewis Carroll recently, there is a regime of sorts which reigns over a community.  The slightest offence to that regime and its political desires is met with a very famous, oft repeated and entirely apt line:    "Off with their heads!"

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