Racism in Soccer

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. England's premier soccer league is considered the place to play for some of the game's brightest stars. It's certainly a premier stage for what fans like to call the beautiful game, but English soccer is dealing with a couple of pretty ugly cases involving alleged racist language used by a player on the field. One involves a white Uruguayan player who'd been banned for eight games after sports authorities found him guilty of racially abusing a black French player. The other case involves a captain of England's national soccer team, who today learned he's facing criminal charges for allegedly directing a racists insult at a fellow player. James Pearce is a sports correspondent for the BBC. He's been following these stories and he joins us from London. James, how did the verbal exchange between England captain, John Terry, who is white, and Anton Ferdinand, who's black, how did that become a case for the criminal court?

James Pearce: Well, it was during a match in the premier league in October between the Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea. It was a fairly tempestuous tight match, but there was an instance during the match which was caught on television cameras where it appeared that perhaps John Terry had been racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, that was spotted by a viewer on television. It was reported to the police and the police have been looking as a result at the evidence, at the video footage in particular of the match. And today they decided that they did indeed have enough evidence to charge him.

Werman: Right, so this video appears on the web. There's no audio, but you can see his lips move. How does Terry respond to that?

Pearce: He says simply that the comments are taken out of context and when you see the whole context people will understand that he wasn't racially abusing his opponent. In fact, he gave a statement very quickly after he'd been charged, John Terry, saying that he'd been disappointed with the decision and hoped to be given the chance to clear his name as quickly as possible. He said, "I've never aimed a racist remark at anyone."

Werman: And is John Terry is convicted what'll happen to him?

Pearce: Well, the maximum fine is only about $4,000. He can't face a jail term. This is a player who earns around about $250,000 to $300,000 a week, so this is just a drop in the ocean for him in terms of finance…

Werman: Wow.

Pearce: because the damage is to his reputation. If he would be found guilty it's certain as though the English Football Association would also charge him. Yesterday, they banned Luis Suarez for a similar offense for eight matches and fined him about $60,000. So John Terry will be facing a punishment at least as severe as that, I think quite possibly more severe simply because he is the England captain and such a role model.

Werman: Right, and Suarez is involved in the other case we mentioned. He's an Uruguayan who insulted French defender Patrice Evra. I mean how widespread is this? Is this the tip of the iceberg?

Pearce: Well, Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA for the world governing body, gave an interview recently which he said he didn't believe that racism was an issue within the sport. He then later that week was made to apologize because he realized I think what he'd done, and he realized the reaction he provoked because there's no doubt that there are major issues of racism. And yes, we're talking here about the problems in the English game, but that in many ways is because the English authorities are doing a lot to try and stamp this out. There are other countries around the world I think where people would argue that there's a lot less done. You have monkey chants regularly given to players, bananas thrown or whatever…

Werman: What's a…what's that, monkey chants?

Pearce: People who might claim that a black player you know, is like a monkey and they'll chant monkey noises or throw bananas on the pitch to mock the player, try to humiliate them, say they're like a monkey, or something like that. I mean it really, really is debased behavior. What you really need to have to make a difference is an attitude change within society. I think in many ways what happens on the football pitch and in the football stands is just a reflection on society in that country, and it's very difficult for the football authorities to try to make a stand on their own when perhaps in the culture something can be accepted anyway.

Werman: James Pearce, sports correspondent for the BBC, thanks a lot.

Pearce: My pleasure.