The furore surrounding John Terry since the Queens Park Rangers game has bought into focus a number of issues. They are, perhaps, two sides of the same coin, but they pose a number of questions.
And I for one have no answers, only more questions. So, let’s play Devil’s Advocate.
1. Is He or Isn’t He? or “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” (Abraham Lincoln)
Amidst all the allegations, the lies, the finger-pointing and the holier-than-thou pontificating in the “is he or isn’t he” witch-hunt surrounding our Captain, there are many who have called for John Terry to be stripped of the captaincy of club and country.
It is said that the first casualty of war is the ‘Truth’. In a similar vein I would suggest that the first casualty of a witch-hunt is ‘Logic’.
To allege that John Terry is racist is to deny logic. Let’s look at the evidence.
There are the character-reference statements boldly made by the likes of Frank Lampard and other players; also those made by AVB and Ray Wilkins. Admittedly they are value judgement made by those who know and respect him, but nevertheless they are also powerful vindications of his character.
We have all read them so I need not go into details here. But in the face of a witch-hunt we need more hard evidence.
He has learned his trade at a multi-cultural club. Chelsea, rather than being an insular English club, has a long history of looking out into wider competition and embracing multi-ethnicity. This ethos has probably existed at the club since its inception, but certainly from as far back as 1955 when the club should have been the first to compete in European competition.
After winning our first League title, Chelsea were planning a first competitive foreign foray when the ever insular and myopic F.A. and Football League regrettably succeeded in persuading them to withdraw from the competition. More recently of course Chelsea has been a kaleidoscope of nations – to its obvious benefit.
You do not progress very far in such an organisation if you are inherently racist. And the obvious truth is that he has not only progressed but he has become the figurehead of the club. The fact is that John Terry is captain of a multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic team, both on and off the field. He also leads a multi-cultural team at National level, again both on and off the pitch.
Would anyone seriously argue when Terry was breaking into first team football that the likes of Marcel Desailly would have tolerated racist attitudes at the club? And given his obvious admiration for Desailly, that Terry believes he (Desailly) is somehow a lesser player, a lesser person, because of the colour of his skin or his formative culture? Of course not.
Would any England manager hand the armband to anyone remotely racist, with its obvious implications for squad solidarity? The idea is ludicrous and the answer is No. Similarly, does anyone with an iota of intelligence believe that strong, forceful, and independent characters such as Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba would accept leadership from someone with racist attitudes?
Abraham Lincoln once said “no man is good enough to govern another man without that others consent”. That truism still holds good. The idea of those guys accepting the leadership of a racist is preposterous. Logically, then, I believe we can put the idea of a racist JT to bed once and for all. Whether the Witchfinder generals amongst the baying masses can grasp that concept is, sadly, another matter.
But of course the question is not about whether Terry is a racist or not, it is about what happened on the pitch. And this is where I start to lose it.
In order to explain why, can I move from the specific race issue to a more general question? The question of behaviour on, and off, the pitch.
2. On and Off. or “We have double standards to live up to” (from Ally McBeal)
The question is “What is acceptable behaviour on the pitch?”
We all know – players, coaches, fans alike – that anything that happens on the pitch in the intensity of the moment is rarely a personal issue. Its motivation and intent can be boiled down to one thing: an effort to gain an advantage over your opponent, an advantage that may win the game. And that surely is the object of sporting competition.
We all know and accept that what happens on the pitch is not a microcosm of society. The rules are changed, barriers broken down, rebuilt: different values emerge.
The customs and mores imitate society, but are not of it. The football pitch is, if you like, a virtual world within a world. To demonstrate the difference in values, let’s look at some of the things that are acceptable on the pitch, but not off it.
Spitting (not at an opponent or anything so crass, just on the ground). It is seen at every match; more, it is seen at almost all sporting occasions. But in the wider world it is considered rude, unhygienic and anti-social.
Swearing loudly and/or aggressively – heard on pitches everywhere, but not acceptable on the street.
Deliberate physical contact with a view to unbalancing or preventing the progress of another. Wholly unacceptable on the street. Unacceptable on the pitch, yet often allowed (Ramos on Walcott anyone?) and condoned as “part of the game”.
Verbal abuse. This can sometimes take the form of racist abuse, but more often consists of disparaging comments about a person’s size or alleged weakness. Tolerated on the pitch, frowned upon off it.
Deliberate ABH – unacceptable, yet often accepted as “part of the game”.
Now I am not suggesting that every football pitch is a lawless zone, nor am I suggesting that the rules of society should be forced onto the field of play. Far from it. The last thing we want is the police prosecuting players left right and centre. But what if we do impose these external values onto the pitch? The result may be a situation where the following hypothetical questions could be asked.
Why do we accept that in the heat of the moment in a pressurised game a player can attract mild condemnation for a career-threatening tackle; but be subject to a police and FA investigation for an outburst that would be largely ignored on the street?
Why should verbal abuse of any sort be elevated to such a heinous crime that it provokes a police investigation when instances of other anti-social and often violent behaviour do not? Is it worse to call someone a lanky freak or a midget than to call them black? Or vice versa?
What is the most disparaging insult? And according to whom?
There is also the question of intent. If there is no intent to abuse (and here I mean any form of abuse) is it abuse or is it failed communication? Has not the victimised player failed to appreciate that the motive behind the statement is not the literal interpretation but an effort to gain advantage?
Moving off the pitch and into the stands for a moment, is it acceptable to tolerate groups of fans making masturbation gestures at a player, thereby condoning their behaviour, while punishing a player for doing the same thing?
Again, how is it that the police intervene in some instances and not others? I understand that if an incident is bought to their attention, they must take action. Yet apparently in 2008 the police themselves urged the FA to take action following complaints of verbal abuse from fans – after which the police decided it was “not feasible” to make arrests (source).
I don’t understand why it is “not feasible” to take action against fans yet it is possible to pursue actions against players. Is society (and by “society” I mean every one of us) wrong to ignore some issues and elevate the importance of others? Is it right that elevating the importance of an issue should automatically increase the weight of punishment?
Enough. My head is spinning.
So is it possible to find the answers to these questions? Where do we draw the line on these issues? To be honest, I don’t know. The logic of these hypothetical situations eludes me. Logic appears to have left the room.
It has left because to force outside values – however well-intentioned – onto the football pitch is to create an artificial situation. It creates a dichotomy of values that cannot coexist and is unsustainable. In short, it creates double standards. And the double standards involved here are staggering, and this is what I find difficult to get my head around.
Returning to the specific John Terry issue, whilst I abhor racism I find very few examples of it on the pitch. In the stand, well, that is another matter.
I find myself in the strange situation of agreeing with Sepp Blatter when he says of the game “There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players [attitude] towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one…the one who is affected by that, he should also say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands…”
The problem with an outside investigation is that it superimposes the values of the outside onto the football pitch.
Hopefully the investigation into the matter will be based on logic and will focus solely on the facts of what happened on the pitch. It must, logically, also take into account the accepted values of the game rather than external values artificially imposed on it from outside.
Finally I hope that the findings of any investigation are presented clearly and are based on fact and logic. For in the absence of logic we are left with only one logical conclusion.