So, after successfully defending himself from a criminal charge relating to the same incident, John Terry has now been found guilty by the Football Association of “using abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Anton Ferdinand which included a reference to colour and/or race”. The one time England captain, true to form, had pre-empted the verdict by announcing his own retirement from international football, and lambasting the FA for, in Terry’s own words, making his position within the England set up “untenable”.
As has been widely pointed out, the FA’s decision is made on the same grounds as those used in civil cases, essentially on the balance of probabilities compared to the beyond reasonable doubt definition that is required for a criminal conviction. Given that fact, Terry’s insistence that he had not used any racist language in the aftermath of the incident, only to then make an admission in the magistrates court that he did use racist language but only because he was repeating it back to Ferdinand, it is easy to see why the FA reached the verdict that they did.
What is trickier to understand is why going into the hearing Terry was still in the England set up at all. I don’t mean in terms of his ability, you’ll have your own views on that. Rather, I can’t understand the sense in allowing a man with a track record of loutish and unprofessional behaviour – from urinating in nightclubs like a common hooligan and arrogantly parking in disabled spaces, to greedily renting out his subsidised Wembley box and offering out private tours of Stamford Bridge for £10,000 – to represent his country.
That is, of course, without mentioning the fact that Terry has already been exposed as a liar. Whether or not you believe he is a racist, by publicly denying that he had used racist language in the days following the allegation against him first being made, only to then accept in court that he did use the very words he once claimed he hadn’t, Terry revealed that his morals are, at the very best, questionable. But then the revelation of his extramarital affair, as well as the dishonest response he gave in the face of video evidence that captured his off the ball assault on Alexis Sanchez in the Camp Nou earlier this year, served as indications to us all that Terry’s moral compass is horrendously skewed.
Yet despite all this, Terry has been afforded positions of power and extreme wealth for years. The Chelsea club captain’s £220,000 fine from the FA that was handed out with their guilty verdict and a four game ban is equivalent to roughly two weeks wages. Sponsorship deals with Umbro, and advertising contracts with Samsung and Nationwide, have already made Terry the tenth richest footballer in England, according to the Sunday Times rich list, with a net worth of £26 million. I don’t mean to pass judgement on my fellow man, but it angers me that despite a string of misdemeanours that would curtail his opportunities in virtually any other profession, Terry has forged an incredibly successful career. But in that regard, I suppose he is far from alone.
Take, for example, the case just over a week ago of the Conservative cabinet member and chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who used abusive and disrespectful language towards police officers who refused to open the gates of Downing Street to allow him to cycle through. Mitchell, it is alleged, branded the police officers involved “plebs”, and told them they they needed to “learn their place”. Whether Mitchell used the words attributed to him or not, his actions, coming just a day after serving police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were callously murdered whilst on duty, were ignorant and short-sighted in the extreme.
Since “Plebgate” came to light, many have called for Mitchell’s resignation, but unlike Terry he has refused to yield. Like Terry however, Mitchell’s own track record is one that raises the question of whether or not he is fit for office in the first place. When the expenses scandal broke Mitchell was amongst the most criticised politicians, as his accounts revealed he claimed £21,000 for the cleaning, redecorating and furnishing his constituency home and garden, as well as, rather ridiculously, 13p for Tipex and 45p for a gluestick, at a time when he was in charge of his party’s policy on tackling global poverty no less.
If that wasn’t enough, it was also revealed earlier this year that Mitchell held shares in a company that used a legal loophole to avoid paying £2.6 million in stamp duty on the purchase of a commercial property in London, an act which HM Revenue and Customs called “aggressive tax avoidance”. Even more embarrassingly for Mitchell, just a week earlier Chancellor George Osbourne had used his budget statement to brand such tax avoidance schemes as “incredibly repugnant”. No right minded person disagreed.
Consider too the story of Lucy Kinder, the Daily Telegraph writer who recounted this week her own experience with Mitchell who, whilst on a humanitarian visit with Kinder to Rwanda in 2009, ostracised the young journalist and forced her to go home for simply expressing her opinion on the project. It may be the use or alleged use of the words “black” and “pleb” that has angered many, and so it should, but such terms are just the poisoned tips of a catalogue of bullying and bad behaviour from both men that stretches back for years.
So why do we allow people to act like this? Both Terry and Mitchell are in incredibly privileged positions of wealth and power, and have shown themselves, without question, to be below the level of behaviour most of us as ordinary citizens would consider acceptable. Worse, they haven’t just offended once, but time and time again, and, most sickeningly of all, they have both acted with nothing but arrogance and petulance when their wrong-doings have been exposed. Towards their fellow professionals, to the UK’s legal system, to authority figures and even to you and me, both have behaved like cowardly bullies.
Of course, Mitchell isn’t the only politician with a questionable ethical record, and Terry is far from the only professional footballer to also behave like a thug. Perhaps it is as wrong to single them out as targets as it is for them to single out their own victims, but then it would be wrong too if we were to just excuse them. Nevertheless the fact remains that we, as a society, have created a culture where bullies go unpunished, and indeed are often even rewarded for their behaviour. We should be ashamed of this fact. Whether in government or on the football pitch, we need to have a serious look at who we are choosing to represent us.