The Football Association is agonising over the role of John Terry, the Chelsea and England footballer, and the part he will play in the forthcoming European Championships. These will be played in June and July, and on past form, the English team will be back home in short order.
As you will know, Terry faces allegations of racial abuse, and his legal advisers have persuaded the court to list the trial after the final of the Championships. So the FA is faced with the prospect of Terry leading out the English team with a serious charge hanging over him, but his supporters point out that he is innocent until convicted, and to strip him of the captaincy, or worse still, to exclude him from the team altogether, would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.
It is worth remembering how Terry finds himself before the court. After a police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service were consulted, and after the usual navel gazing, decided to bring the charge. There is a standard procedure adopted by the CPS before they bring a charge. After considering the evidence, which includes any statements in denial from Terry, the CPS has to determine if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. That is the key to this matter, and one that should not be overlooked.
Needless to say, the test applied by the CPS does not mean that Terry will be convicted, it simply means that there is enough evidence to place before the court and, if accepted, would be sufficient to found a conviction. As the lawyers would have it, there is a prima facie case to answer.
So if Terry is to play in the European Championships, and especially if he is to captain the team, the world and his dog will know that he stands accused of racially abusing a black player during a football match. There are now dozens, if not hundreds, of black football players throughout Europe, and the world and his dog will hold its breath every time Terry goes into a sliding tackle on a black opponent.
And what happens if a black player, having felt the full force of one of Terry’s trademark tackles, complains that he has been racially abused? After all, there’s no smoke without fire, and Terry is placing himself in an invidious position.
There are two options: bring the trial forward to a date before the start of the Championships. If Terry is acquitted, end of story, and he is free to get on with the job he does best without a stain on his character. Or, the less preferred option, exclude him from taking any part in the Championships, and possibly damage even further England’s faint hopes of putting on a good show.
And what if he is subsequently acquitted? The FA will finish with egg on their faces, not the first time, and Terry’s legal advisers will almost certainly seek substantial compensation for their innocent and rightly aggrieved client.
Time to rethink the whole sorry mess!