‘Discredited’ Terry abandons international football

After damning allegations of racial abuse, top footballer John Terry has announced his retirement from the England team. His case is one of many embarrassments for the footballing world.

John Terry is one of England’s footballing elite. A Chelsea FC star and celebrated defender, he has represented his national team 78 times.

But he is also a reviled figure, notorious for violence and prejudice. And now, allegations of racial abuse have brought his glittering international career to an end. On the eve of a Football Association hearing that was set to judge if he yelled an unprintable, racist slur at QPR player Anton Ferdinand, John Terry has left the England team.

The Terry case is the latest of a string of blows to football’s reputation. Last December, Luis Suarez was fined £40,000 for racially abusing fellow player Patrice Evra, and Euro 2012 was marred when fans directed racist chants at Italian striker Mario Balotelli.

Just last week, Manchester United followers were criticised for offensive chants against Liverpool: ‘always the victims, it’s never your fault’ was a reference to Hillsborough – a tragedy in which 96 Liverpudlians were killed.

Misbehaviour in the crowd, however, looks tame next to the exploits of some footballers – a few of whom make Terry look angelic. Sordid sex scandals and extra-marital affairs have sullied the names of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Ashley Cole. During his career, Joey Barton has become notorious: he started a brawl during a match, stubbed out a cigar in a teammate’s eye, assaulted two teenagers and broke a pedestrian’s leg while drink-driving.

This record hasn’t stopped him passing judgement on his fellow players – men he says are ‘detached from real life’, who spend their days ‘wearing stupid diamond watches’ and spending money ‘like it's going out of fashion’. It is not an isolated report of yobbish culture: during his career, Graeme Le Saux was constantly taunted for being gay – because he read a broadsheet newspaper and was interested in art.

This summer, London 2012 threw this footballing culture into sharp relief. The sportsmanship, hard graft and dignified behaviour of Olympic champions, many commentators said, put yobbish footballers to shame – and showed them up as terrible role models who need to clean up their act.

A bad example

But should we expect so much? Footballers are famous for one reason: they happen to be exceptionally good at kicking a ball. They are normal, flawed people, who happen to earn a lot of money by playing sport. It is foolish to look to them as an example of how to behave.

But it is precisely this, others say, that makes footballers such important role models. As normal men, often from working-class backgrounds, it is unavoidable that people will look up to them. They have a responsibility not to lead these admirers astray, and to set a good example.

You Decide

  1. Should footballers have a responsibility to be good role models to young people?
  2. Is football’s bad reputation based on snobbery or reality?

Activities

  1. In groups, discuss what makes a good role model. Get everyone to choose one person they regard as a role model or a good example, and explain why they look up to that person.
  2. Imagine you are an FA cup executive. You are tasked with putting together a five-point plan for cleaning up football. Write up your ideas, with explanations of why each step is necessary, and what it can achieve.

Some People Say...

“Footballing culture is rotten to the core.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This ‘football culture’ must have some background in UK society?
That’s complicated. But in Britain, many people see football as a ‘working class’ sport. Money isn’t such an object when it comes to playing it, there is a strong football culture in many industrial cities, and most Premier League footballers come from working class backgrounds.
And that means...
That football’s fiercest critics might just be snobs.
Are they?
Perhaps. But today, football is enjoyed by a wider spectrum of people than ever. The Premier League is watched by 13 million people around the UK, and is televised in 212 countries around the world. If footballers are ‘role models’ then they are setting an example to more than just one social class, or type of people.

Word Watch

Football Association hearing
Terry denies the charges of racism against him, and was acquitted of them in court earlier this year. Then, it had to be established beyond all reasonable doubt that he was guilty – and precisely what he said during the altercation could not be seen for certain. The FA disciplinary hearing, on the other hand, only needs to establish if it was likely Terry made a racist slur – and it seems probably he will be found guilty.
Mario Balotelli
Balotelli is an Italian footballer who plays for Manchester City. His eccentric personality and extravagant exploits have gained him a cult reputation in the UK: he once drove into a women’s prison ‘to have a look around’, and when asked by police why he was carrying £5000 in cash he is reported to have replied ‘because I am rich’.
Hillsborough
During a 1989 game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the collapse of a stand and a human crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people. The tragedy, which is known as the Hillsborough Tragedy, was followed by accusations that Liverpool fans – including some of the dead – obstructed police and ambulances, started fights and even stole from victims. Since then it has emerged that the police created these stories as a cover-up for their own failings.
Graeme Le Saux
Originally from France, Le Saux played for Southampton and Chelsea during his Premier League career. He is married with children. Although he is not gay, his experiences have prompted him to campaign against homophobia in football.

Subjects

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