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Michael Volpe Headshot

T-shirts and Tantrums

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The John Terry saga has taken yet another absurdist turn - this latest has fed the insidiously growing monster of racism's revival.

Protest and activism in a democracy depends on the golden rule that those protesting do not behave against the principles their protest seeks to uphold. Hypocrisy, abuse of process and rights, mob rule, mindless, boorish shouting, bullying, one dimensional showboating, economy with the truth - all are the preserve of the fascist, the racist, the grand corporate wizard and have no place in a movement dedicated to the end of prejudice.

In the Terry case we have seen every single one of these behaviours and as a consequence, rarely have I seen so many people willing to voice trenchant, racist views in open, public forums. This case, to them, is the final death knell of the legitimacy of the anti-racist argument. To them, it proves the issue is one way, that in fact, by objecting to the prejudice of white people against black citizens, we are being duped into ignoring a conspiracy. I am not joking, this really IS what I am seeing on a daily basis.

Since John Terry issued his statement that he would not appeal the FA tribunal decision, the whirlwind has intensified. Terry's trial is forgotten and his apology, such as it was, was the final admission of his guilt. We got him. Now we must bury him. A number of black footballers have been making their own statement by refusing to wear Kick it Out t-shirts. They do so because they believe that the authorities are not doing enough to combat racism and implicit in that protest is the leniency they believe Terry has been shown. The events in Serbia recently have somehow worked their way into the argument, as if that grotesque display of terrace racism, unseen in the UK for thirty years, is evidence of that FA failure.

A succession of pundits have made clear that Ferdinand has every right to make his protest and it is hard to argue with that on the face of it. But one wonders what he believes the FA should have done to John Terry? Was it not enough that they ignored his trial and changed their own rules in order to pursue him? Terry himself has endured a criminal hearing, a year of abuse and vilification, hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines, the loss of the England captaincy, enforced retirement from international football and goodness knows what to come. What does Ferdinand believe he should suffer? An eight month ban similar to that which Ferdinand himself received for his drug test misdemeanour? Public flogging?

Commentators have contended that it is Rio's human right to refuse to wear the t-shirt. Sir Alex Ferguson disagreed and threatened to deal with him but any punishment will further fuel the fire, confirmation that the entire edifice of football has a downer on black players. But by ramming home the principle of Ferdinand's human rights we are left questioning why John Terry's human right to consider his criminal trial outcome to be sacrosanct is ignored? Why Ashley Cole's right not to be racially abused on Twitter (in the infamous 'choc-ice' moment) is set aside?

Journalist who couldn't stop themselves writing prejudicial, nauseatingly personal tirades against Terry are waiting in line to support Rio and his protesting friends and all the while, those of us who believe in the cause of anti-racism are being assailed by the mob whose belief in the inherent hypocrisy of the movement is growing stronger, more bold, more rapaciously self-confident with every day. With every, frankly, embarrassing tirade from Jason Roberts, wilfully casting aside what is appropriate and fair, implicitly equating Terry with the thuggery and hate of Serbian fans, the ignorant and hitherto sleeping troll of racism begins to stir. This isn't about what hurts black players any longer, it roars. It is about getting someone you don't like. It is about Terry, not racism.

Law and process have been the victims in this episode. Credibility and the core righteousness of anti-racism has been kicked half to death because a media witch-hunt, fuelled by personal vendettas, has been allowed to take the driving seat and with it we are all careering back to the dark ages. We might not start to hear racist chants on the terraces, we may not see a growth in violent attacks on black or Asian people, but we are already seeing something just as insidious; people who don't care anymore, who scoff and treat anti-racism with a sceptical mistrust in a fog of moral equivalence. People feel they have been witness to a defining moment in anti-racism; when it adopted the tactics of the politically malignant force who will, at any costs, pursue their aims, the facade of righteousness stripped away to reveal a duplicitous beast.

It has boiled down to this; Rio Ferdinand's right not to wear a t-shirt supersedes that of a man found not guilty in a court of law. I shall have to find a way to counter that argument whenever I upbraid a football fan for his racism. I will need a strategy to beat back his moronic assertion that racism appears only to count when it is white on black or when it relates to John Terry. I will no doubt find it hard to call him a fascist pig when he spits back that a man's criminal trial was totally dismissed by the hypocrites in KIO and the FA.

I will do my best but perhaps you will forgive me if I don't feel inclined to bother any longer. But at least Rio Ferdinand didn't have to wear his t-shirt.