Friday, 3 February 2012

John Terry - should he even be playing for England?

Footballer John Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy while he waits to stand trial in July over allegations of racist abuse directed at QPR player Anton Ferdinand. The FA have said that this decision has no bearing on their assumptions of guilt or innocence.

But actually, I’m wondering if this decision has gone far enough, and whether Terry should in fact even be allowed to play for the England team while he has this charge hanging over him.

It is difficult, because in this country we live under the assumption of innocent until proven guilty, and as yet, Terry hasn’t been found guilty. However, it could be argued that if someone was charged with such abuse against a colleague in the workplace, they would be suspended until the matter had been resolved one way or the other. Even if someone was charged with such abuse against someone at a rival company (as could be argued happened in this instance), it is still likely that action would be taken and they be suspended until the issue had been resolved.

Now, I’m not calling for his sacking or suspension from the Chelsea team, Chelsea is essentially a privately owned club and they have the right to make whatever decisions they see fit with regard to their players. But I do have issue with players who are under a charge of racial abuse representing our country on an international level.

As a rule, I have felt that penalising players for what they do within their own lives is wrong, even if what they do has been morally reprehensible. When Terry was previously stripped of the captaincy because of his affair with the wife of another player, and there were calls for his removal from the team, I didn’t feel that was the right course of action, after all what he does in his private life is ultimately his business, and as a player he should not be answerable for that – regardless of one’s moral opinion of what he did.

Similarly when there were calls for Paul Gascoigne’s sacking after allegations of domestic violence against his wife, while I think the way he behaved as a human being was utterly abhorrent, I still do not believe that he should have been answerable for that in his job as a footballer. Although if Cheryl Gascoigne had pressed charges against him for the abuse I would not have thought it appropriate for him to represent his country while awaiting trial either.

And maybe that’s the issue really. Is it right that someone awaiting trial for an offense, any offense, should still be representing their country on an international stage? I’m not sure that it is.

Racism is of course particularly emotive, because the FA and other football associations are under huge amounts of pressure to clamp down on racist abuse within the game.

But I’m not entirely sure that any other crime is different, apart from the fact that perhaps another crime might not involve a colleague within the game itself.

If John Terry scores during the European Championships will he be a hero? Or will he have his impending trial hanging over his achievement? And if he is found guilty of this charge do we want to think that the England winning goal might have been scored by a racist who was awaiting trial for his actions?

John Terry is innocent until proven guilty. But when representing his country, he should be doing so as a footballer, a player of the game, an ambassador for our country and nothing else. And this trial, this racism charge takes away all of that. People see John Terry potential racist, awaiting trial first, and England footballer, ambassador for our country second.

And if he is found guilty, what kind of ambassador will that make him – even retrospectively?

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