The Last Word: Only the law can lay down law on racism

Terry case has focused shrill opinion on an issue so sensitive that it must be left to the courts
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The Independent Online

If the Football Association believe they have a splitting headache with the England captain at the centre of a racism inquiry, then they should be warned. If John Terry is found guilty, their collective cranium will burst at the seams.

Of course the "if" part of that sentence is the most important. Some of the conjecture concerning the Chelsea centre-half has been appalling. Just because he allegedly had an affair with his mate's ex, just because his father has dealt cocaine, just because his mother was cautioned for shoplifting – all this has nothing to do with this accusation.

There was much mirth when the claim was put forward that Terry had "to protect his reputation". "What reputation??!!" went the hilarious cry. Erm, the reputation which doesn't yet have him as the perpetrator of racist remarks. I'd imagine that would be quite important to most people, regardless of any previous misdemeanours.

But something else is at stake, something that surely does justify the hypothesising about the Terry case, if only to understand the confusion of the football authorities and their reaction to racism.

Popular opinion suggests that if the verdict goes against Terry he is finished as a professional footballer. Technically, that wouldn't be true, and therein would lie the problem for the FA. What would be the punishment for a player found guilty of racist abuse? Go on, if you are in the "throw away the key" brigade, what would be the right sanction?

Uefa regulations stipulate a maximum five-game ban for "anyone who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons, by whatever means, including on grounds of colour, race, religion or ethnic origin". Wisla Krakow's Nikola Mijailovic was given such a ban for racially abusing Blackburn's Benni McCarthy in 2006. The Serb was playing within a month and now can be found in the Russian Premier League.

That is eastern Europe, this is Britain; and the circumstances concerning the offender's rehabilitation would obviously differ. Maybe it wouldn't matter what the FA disciplinarians decided. Maybe no club would want to sign a player carrying the racist stigma. Maybe a British national association wouldn't allow a manager to pick such a player. But how would that be governed and where would the line be drawn? Would it be deemed allowable to pick a player who has been proven to be racist outside football?

If not, why not? There are men who have served time for sexual assault playing in the top divisions. How do you judge one above the other or, indeed, below? There is one thing of which you can be certain; if any high-quality player is available, at an inevitably knock-down price, there would be plenty of chairmen prepared to negotiate a path through the moral maze to sign him.

But then, the muddle of the picture suddenly becomes clearer when it involves the law. Take the case of a striker in the Eastern Counties League a few years ago.

Tom Gosling was charged with racially abusing another player. The Cambridgeshire FA issued a 42-day ban, before the racism charge was reported to Suffolk police. Magistrates found him guilty of using racially aggravated threatening behaviour and he was banned from entering any football ground in England for three years. Pertinently, the Cambridgeshire FA also gave Gosling a 150-day ban for confronting the referee. Try to equate that little lot; radically different verdicts from sport and court.

Doesn't this mess prove one thing? That football authorities do not, and probably should not, have the wherewithal to deal with issues as serious as racial abuse. Yet Fifa, in that unbearably arrogant way, maintain that when a player suffers racist abuse it should be handled within football.

Fifa aren't so power-crazed to dare to suggest that the police shouldn't administer the law of the land. What they don't want is for players to take their alleged abuser to court. Well, they can "don't want" all they like, because unless they haven't noticed, humans have rights.

Oguchi Onyewu clearly believes in this quaint notion. The Sporting Lisbon defender refused to accept that Jelle van Damme would escape for allegedly calling him "a dirty monkey" in 2009. It was the old "one man's word against another" conundrum. So Onyewu filed a complaint in a Belgian court, thereby suing Van Damme. As the case was still working its way through the system (apparently it still is) Van Damme was signed by Wolves of, you guessed it, the English Premier League.

Yet that is not the point. What would a guilty verdict in any such case mean for football? Everything. Apart from being a deterrent, it would act as a sign for the football authorities to leave well alone, and to assist the proper bodies in doing their job.

Donald deserves share of limelight

You wouldn't know it, you might not even agree with it, but there is an argument which says that Luke Donald is Britain's best sportsman.

Of course, the fans of Mark Cavendish would say otherwise, but it depends upon one's definition of "best". Cavendish is no doubt the world's greatest sprint cyclist, but is he the greatest cyclist?

Without any disrespect intended to this wonderful athlete, I would venture to suggest that his speciality is rather too specialist.

Look around the primetime sports and in which other does Britain claim to have the world No 1? Only golf. Yet still Donald's achievements don't receive the prominence they deserve.

That has everything to do with the general obsession with majors, his quiet personality – and absolutely nothing to do with his talent.

Certainly he should be on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Yes, there are a couple of Northern Irish major-winners who need recognising, but I'm not sure if their feats are superior to those of Donald.

Not only has the Englishman established himself as the clear leader of the rankings, but he has won four titles and made history last week as the first European to top the American money list. That last honour should not be understated.

Golfers define themselves by how much they earn on the course. They qualify for Ryder Cups because of their week-by-week performance, and they largely qualify for majors by the same token.

So to write Donald off as nothing more than "a walking ATM machine" as someone did recently, is as unfair as it is naïve.

There is no question that he is the world's best golfer. Britain should be proud.

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