Racism haunts football as England captain charged

In the latest of a string of racism scandals, John Terry has been charged with a criminal offence for racially abusing another player. Can prejudice ever be kicked out of football?

In a career of many ups and downs, John Terry may be about to hit rock bottom. An ill-tempered spat during a recent game in London has left the England captain facing criminal charges – of racist abuse against Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.

The claims are serious. Though he denies them, Terry now faces a high-profile court case, and his captaincy of the England team is under threat.

Although Terry strongly denies the claims, they have created a storm that sheds light on a much wider problem in football. Last month, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was fined £40,000 and banned for eight matches by the Football Association for racist insults aimed at Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.

And it is not just the players. In 2004, Spanish fans chanted monkey noises at Ashley Cole, and this year, Emanuel Eboue was pelted with missiles whilst playing in Turkey.

Sepp Blatter, President of Fifa, the world football authority, fuelled outrage further when he claimed that racism between players on the pitch could be solved with a handshake at the end of the game. Rio Ferdinand, older brother of victim Anton, claimed to be ‘astonished’ by Blatter’s comments. Hundreds of other players called for Blatter’s resignation.

Meanwhile, a huge amount of money and effort has been spent attempting to remove racism from football in the UK. Since 1993, the international campaign ‘Kick it Out’ has been running a high-profile battle against racism, sexism and homophobia.

Players like Didier Drogba and Rio Ferdinand have risen to the very top of the game, and today nearly one out of four players in the Premier League are black. Until the recent incidents involving Terry and Suarez, some would have argued that football in the UK was a racism-free zone.

Crime and punishment

For many, the punishments handed out to Terry and Suarez will not go far enough. Racism is unacceptable, and in the rare instances that it does occur it should be treated with zero tolerance. Footballers are paid in a week what most people don’t earn in a year, and they are role models with global exposure. If they cannot behave decently and without prejudice, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Perhaps we are expecting too much of our footballers, others would assert. Football is a passionate game played under intense pressure and media scrutiny: tempers are bound to fray. Racism has not yet been eradicated from our daily lives, they say, and as sport exists not outside but within our society, how can we expect the game to be free of it?

You Decide

  1. Is racism a serious problem in football today?
  2. How do you think the punishment for racial abuse should compare to that for a violent tackle, in which someone was seriously injured?


  1. Imagine you are John Terry, and need to make a press statement to the nation following the charges. Write the statement and consider what you would like to say to clear your name.
  2. Compose a football chant that spreads a positive message.

Some People Say...

“John Terry should never be allowed to put on an England shirt again.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How do we define racism?
Racism means using someone’s ethnicity as a mark of difference between people, and believing that race defines someone – for good or bad.
So ethnicity means skin colour?
Race, or ethnicity, generally refers to things like ancestry, skin colour and culture, which place someone in a particular group. It doesn’t always include nationality, or religion.
So how is that illegal?
Attitudes can’t really be against the law, but acting on them can be. If racism influences someone to commit criminal activity, it will worsen the punishment. Terry’s charge is a racially aggravated public order offence, relating to insulting or threatening someone. It’s also illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, or broadcast racist views.

Word Watch

Criminal Charges
A criminal charge is a formal accusation that someone has committed a crime. It must be based on strong evidence, but someone is not convicted of the crime until their guilt has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Football Association
Otherwise known as the FA, it oversees all league football in Britain, and the national team. The FA cup is the oldest club tournament in the world.
The international governing body of football associations. Fifa organises the Fifa World Cup, which has been running since 1930, and will be held next in Brazil in 2014.
‘Kick it Out’
An international campaign to drive racism out of football. Beginning in 1993, as a campaign to ‘kick racism out of football’, it now works with communities and organisations to challenge discrimination and create a positive environment for diversity.
Zero tolerance
A punishment that is inescapably strict, regardless of the details of the crime. For example, if all players found guilty of racism were banned for 6 months.


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