Today’s FA Commission Ruling creates an unedifying and confused position that should be of real concern to all those who care about the regulation of behaviour on and off the sports field.
Indeed it is hard to read the John Terry judgment by the FA Regulatory Commission without wondering how on earth he was not convicted by the Chief Magistrate at his recent criminal trial. Those who anticipated that the Commission simply imposed its finding whilst respecting the findings of fact made in the criminal trial have been confounded.
The trade of graphic insults between Anton Ferdinand and Terry during last season’s QPR v. Chelsea game was not in dispute. The central issue – and Terry’s defence – was whether he was merely repeating what Ferdinand has said by saying “black cunt”.
However, the 3-person FA Commission unanimously found Terry’s case to be “improbable, implausible and contrived”. The surrounding circumstances – the context of gratuitous insults, Terry’s demeanour and personal insults towards other players (in particular, QPR ‘keeper, Paddy Kenny) at the time, and absence of any attempt to address the alleged unjustified accusation at the end of the game – were found to point firmly against Terry’s defence.
In addition, the FA took into account, albeit to a lesser degree, Terry’s apparent ability to tell an untruth in the heat of battle as shown by his implausible explanation (contradicted by TV coverage) immediately following his sending off for kicking a Barcelona player in the Champions’ League semi-final, second leg.
The ramifications of the decision, though, go far deeper for Chelsea FC than Terry’s suspension for 4-games, a £220,000 fine and costs order because the FA Commission dedicate a considerable part of their Ruling to Terry’s team-mate, Ashley Cole’s, evidence (who gave evidence in the criminal trial on Terry’s behalf) and that of the Chelsea Club Secretary, David Barnard. It will make for troubling and deeply embarrassing reading for the powers inside Stamford Bridge.
The FA Commission was informed - albeit significantly not the Chief Magistrate in the criminal trial – that Cole had not used the word “black” in his interviews shortly after the incident at the QPR game. It also did not appear in his first draft witness statement. Instead, some 10-months later, Cole amended his statement to include that key word. The same course was adopted by Barnard.
The damning conclusion of the FA Commission was that the late inclusion of that word appeared to have as a purpose the direct support of Terry’s case. The Commission also had “considerable doubts” as to whether that word “black” was based on Cole’s own personal recollection or were the result of discussions with Barnard.
Notably the Commission also concluded that had that evidence been before the Chief Magistrate, “the Chief Magistrate would have examined Mr Cole’s evidence very carefully indeed, or scrutinised it even more closely than he may have done”. It seems clear, therefore, that the FA Commission has real difficulties with the evidence placed before and, therefore, the conclusions reached by the Chief Magistrate in acquitting Terry.
Somewhat ironically, given the subject matter above, Cole’s immediate response to the Ruling was to label the FA a “buchoftwats” on Twitter.
Without even considering the repercussions for the England team, disciplinary sanctions arising out of this affair look almost certain to rumble on. One can only wonder how Cole will decide address the FA Commission – or whether he will ask Terry or Barnard for a character-reference – when he will almost certain be summoned before them in the near future?
As practitioners this episode can only highlight concerns as to the potential conflict that can arise when incidents on and off the field and dealt with in two different courts/ tribunals. The picture created is an unedifying and unsatisfactory one because it now seems inescapable that there have been two contradictory public findings as to what happened.