The Premier League announced last night that the pre-match handshake between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea players before Sunday's game has been cancelled after lawyers for Anton Ferdinand and John Terry made it clear that neither man was prepared to take part in it.
Terry is in court on 9 July to answer the charge of racially aggravated abuse against Ferdinand from the fixture at Loftus Road in October and both players had advice that the repercussions of the pre-match handshake routine on Sunday – however it pans out on the day – could affect their legal position. Terry denies the charges and entered a not-guilty plea in February.
In the case of Ferdinand, he was advised by his legal team and the Crown Prosecution Service that shaking Terry's hand could be taken as evidence that any relationship he had with the Chelsea captain had not broken down irrevocably over the alleged incident between the two at Loftus Road on 23 October.
The advice to Ferdinand was that a handshake with Terry would in some way be a public sign of approval towards the man who is accused of racially abusing him. As a consequence, it has become clear publicly from newspaper reports during this week that Ferdinand was not prepared to shake the Chelsea captain's hand at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
In response it was argued by Terry's legal representatives that if he was snubbed by just Ferdinand, and possibly the entire QPR team – as they threatened to do before January's fourth-round FA Cup tie between the two clubs – that could have a detrimental effect on his case. Both sides told the Premier League, in whose gift it is to cancel the handshake, that they were not prepared to go ahead with it.
Earlier yesterday, the Premier League were still insistent that the pre-match handshake between the two teams would take place, even if the two players involved ignored one another. However, during the course of the evening it became clear that both sides were entering a fraught legal situation and the most sensible course of action would be to cancel the pre-match handshake.
The same course of action was taken by the Football Association before the FA Cup tie, although by then a date had not been set for the court case. Terry, who denies the charge, will be tried at West London magistrates. He has already entered a plea of not guilty.
The Premier League had hoped that the sting could be taken out of the issue in the build-up to the game. However, it has appeared to have built considerably this week. The match, a 1.30pm kick-off, will be broadcast live on Sky Sports and there will be considerable focus on the moment when the two players face each other.
In a statement last night, the Premier League said: "The Premier League position on the pre-match handshake convention remains consistent. In all normal circumstances it must be observed.
"However, after discussions with both Chelsea and Queen's Park Rangers about the potential and specific legal context in relation to John Terry and Anton Ferdinand the decision has been taken to suspend the handshake convention for Sunday's match."
The clubs signed up to the pre-match handshake in 2007 as part of the Premier League's "Get on with the game" initiative designed to promote fair-play and respect for the opposition. The convention gained a degree of notoriety when Wayne Bridge, then of Manchester City, refused to shake Terry's hand in 2010 and then Liverpool's Luis Suarez did the same to Patrice Evra of Manchester United in February.
There have been calls to scrap the pre-match handshakes altogether. They were originally only for internationals and European cup competitions when there was an accent on welcoming foreign visitors. The Premier League had hoped they would set a tone of sportsmanship for the game that followed, although if anything they appear to have become simply another potential flashpoint.
In slightly better news for Terry, Uefa confirmed yesterday that there would be no reason why, in the event of Chelsea winning the Champions League final against Bayern Munich on 19 May, he would be precluded from joining in the post-match celebrations or even lifting the trophy.
Having been sent off against Barcelona in the semi-final second leg on Tuesday, Terry is suspended for the game and not eligible to sit on the bench during the match. However, there are no restrictions on a suspended squad member playing a part in the celebrations afterwards, should his team win.
The game will be played in Bayern's Allianz Arena which, like all final venues, is nominally a neutral ground. However, the nature of the draw means that it will be the German team who are allowed to occupy the home dressing room at the stadium as it was their semi-final which was drawn first. The referee for the game will be announced, according to normal Uefa protocol, 48 hours before the kick-off.
Meanwhile, Uefa confirmed they will not change their rules to allow the six suspended Chelsea and Bayern players to play in the final despite appeals for clemency. The international players' union FIFPro has called on Uefa to "acquit" the players, three from either side, who were all suspended after being cautioned during the semi-finals.