I’m currently in Leicester, and this week caught a news story in its newsprint organ – the Leicester Mercury.
I’ll come to that shortly; but first, it has put me in mind of two other things: the ongoing investigation into John Terry’s alleged racist abuse of an opponent; and Cherie Booth QC’s dereliction last year when sentencing the perpetrator of a seriously violent offence, on the grounds that he was a religious man and therefore should have known better.
Other than conceding that he is a fine footballer, I am not a fan of John Terry. Rather, I am wont to roll my eyes at whenever another unsavoury antic makes the news. I state so, (although my own admiration or otherwise is irrelevant) to emphasise that I have neither reason to invent excuses for him (in the manner of a deluded fan who can always rationalise his heroes’ misbehaviour), nor kick him when he’s down. (Although I’d rather he wasn’t England captain, I cannot name who I’d prefer – much like I cannot nominate my choice for PM, even though I’m certain it should not be our isolationist incumbent.)
And yet, I confess to a certain degree of sympathy for Terry (well, perhaps ‘sympathy’ is too much) at the flak he has taken over his latest transgression. Of the two words quoted as constituting the racial insult he is accused of, the noun is the insulting one. Had Terry used the noun alone, omitting the qualifying colour (not, in itself, a racist slur), there would presumably have been no complaint made against him. It’s the coupling with the prepositional adjective that renders it racist; the implication that being coloured renders one a worst kind of whatever insulting noun is applied.
I wasn’t there, and I didn’t see the game, but it is interesting reading around the versions of what actually happened. The language alleged, if it can be discerned from the footage requiring our lip-reading, was disrespectful and unacceptable. I have also seen the footage of the action immediately preceding (which is now unavailable for viewing), which appears to show a confrontation, involving the opponent’s raised elbow. If there is evidence of violence at play, then we might understand Terry becoming angry. Had his response been to say nothing, but instead retaliate physically, he would in all likelihood have been sent off and banned for a few games – and roundly criticised. He would, however, likely not have been up before (FA) judge and jury on a charge of racism. His bad-tempered verbiage, a lesser crime than physical violence, has landed him in as much, if not more hot water, and will likely be more detrimental to his long-term reputation.
This is quite difficult subject matter to write about. Again, I’m not seeking to argue Terry’s case. I should stress also that I do not endorse the remote-from-reality comments made (and since retracted) by football’s overlord – the despicable Sepp Blatter. This incident has brought necessary reminder of the unacceptability of racism in sport (or anywhere). But is it right that Terry be made an example of? He may or may not have made a racist insult; he may or may not have been (arguably understandably) provoked. But is there sufficient evidence for him to be hereafter labelled ‘racist’?
Back up to now in Leicester. Last week a young woman, the victim of a drunken, vicious, sustained High Street assault last year, consented to the CCTV footage of the incident being made publicly available. Although there is no sound, and no indication of what preceded the attack, it is reported to have been unprovoked and accompanied with racial insults. Her assailants, four young Somali Muslim women, were convicted last month. I say convicted. Like the man whose jib Cherie liked the cut of, these harpies’ sentences were suspended… in effect, it is suggested, because of their religion. The counsel for the defence argued that, being Muslim, they were “not used to the effects of alcohol.”
It is unclear whether this swayed the judge. Neither is it clear whether the action of the victim’s boyfriend, in trying to defend her, was taken into consideration. (This story found its way into the national press, with predictable treatment.) Whatever, the attackers were not charged with racial aggravation, and it was not judged as such, thus (further) alleviating their sentences. But there can be little doubt it was a violent criminal assault, regardless of whether racist or not. Quite how sentencing can be mitigated by the assailants’ faith is the thing open to doubt here. But some judges apparently consider this qualifies application of the law.
I’m not sure I’m making any valid connection here. Just that this verdict in Leicester was reminiscent of CBQC’s poor judgement; and it put me in mind of Terry’s case, which places the FA in a bit of a pickle, Terry having previously (temporarily) lost the England captaincy over what was, essentially, a private matter. But let’s put things into context and perspective. If John Terry is guilty of racist language, then, as a role model, he is likely to be penalised and certainly should not expect leniency because of who he is, or what he might (purport to) believe.
And neither should anybody else.