The Chelsea and England player John Terry faces a maximum fine of up to £2,500 if he is convicted of racially abusing another player during a Premier League match.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction after he was caught on camera allegedly mouthing abuse at defender Anton Ferdinand during the game between Queen's Park Rangers and Chelsea on 23 October.
Alison Saunders, the chief crown prosecutor for London, said that it was also in the public interest to prosecute the case. Terry will be charged under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.
He will appear before West London Magistrates Court on 1 February for an initial hearing accused of having "used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm ordistress which was racially aggravated".
Terry has already indicated that he is likely to fight the charge "tooth and nail" and the case will be put off for a matter of weeks or even months before any trial is heard. The decision on the timing of the case will be in the hands of the court authorities.
The case will not be heard before a jury but in front of magistrates who have lesser powers of sentencing.
"He is now summonsed with a criminal offence and has the right to a fair trial," said Ms Saunders. "It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice his trial."
Terry was charged after a complaint was made to police about the alleged abuse. There was no report to police in the case of Liverpool's Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who was found guilty on Tuesday of racially abusing Manchester United player Patrice Evra by an independent Football Association commission and banned for eight games.
Paul Peachey is 'The Independent' Crime Correspondent