An eight-game suspension and $63,000 fine handed Liverpool star Luis Suarez for the racial abuse of another player this week had barely set in when similar allegations — criminal charges, in fact — were leveled against Chelsea’s John Terry, who also happens to be the captain of the England national team.
Suarez is being defended to the hilt by his club as he pledges an appeal, causing further rankles from some black players in the English Premier League. Likewise at Chelsea, where Terry is denying the charges he hurled a racial slur at Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers.
These are two critical players on two of the best teams in England, and having them sidelined due to lengthy bans during the height of the season could certainly be devastating to their aspirations in the league and in European competition.
For years there have been black players, primarily in Europe, complaining of racial abuse from other players. It prompted some visible anti-racism campaigns such as Kick It Out. But little has effectively addressed the problem.
Fans hurling banana peels at black players have gone largely unpunished. When he was playing in Belgium, American defender Oguchi Onyewu sued a fellow player he accused of racial abuse. Nothing came of it. Former French national team star Patrick Vieira was fined by UEFA in 2003 for complaining that the European governing body for soccer wasn’t doing enough.
And for all of its bluster about trying to “stamp out” racism, FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, isn’t offering much in the way of serious solutions. Indeed, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter last month rendered himself an even bigger mockery by suggesting that players involved in a racial fracas patch up their differences with a post-game handshake. Even David Beckham publicly objected.
Criminal charges may seem heavy-handed against Terry for something he said. But when the appropriate soccer authorities drop the ball, all that may generate proper attention is the threat of a big-name star having more to lose than a few games on the bench.