QPR announced this week that they have asked Anton Ferdinand to shake John Terry’s hand before the FA Cup clash against Chelsea. Whilst it is wholly understandable, and indeed responsible, that the club should want to defuse the tension surrounding the fixture, the significance of a handshake in such circumstances has been heightened in the wake of Sepp Blatter’s comments about racism in football last November. This begs the question – should QPR have asked Ferdinand to shake Terry’s hand?
For those who have been living in a cave, or just can’t remember, Sepp Blatter said in an interview with CNN that “There is no racism [on the field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct” and that “the one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.” There was widespread condemnation of his comments here in the UK, even after Blatter issued a statement claiming that his comments had been misunderstood. The comment has to rank as Blatter’s worst gaffe ever, and the flippancy with which he demeaned the problem of racism in football furthers the argument against him as FIFA president.
Furthermore, his ‘clarification’ of what he actually meant did little to convince anyone that he was actually committed to the fight against racism, given that he essentially just reworded his original statement in a slightly more careful manner. Blatter stated: “My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have battles with your opponents and sometimes things are done which are wrong. But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.” How this is substantively different to his original comment is extremely difficult to see. Changing “maybe there is a word or gesture” to “some things” fools no-one, and it is an insult to every person that has ever suffered racial abuse in any form for Blatter to trivialise the issue in this manner.
Clearly QPR are not asking Ferdinand to shake hands and forget about Terry’s allegedly racist comment, as Sepp Blatter would no doubt suggest, but if Ferdinand does shake Terry’s hand on Saturday there will inevitably be some that feel it demeans the gravity of the situation, especially if Terry goes on to be found guilty of the charges against him. Consequently, it will be very interesting to see what Ferdinand decides to do.
Obviously it is entirely Ferdinand’s choice, given that he is the one who has been offended. However, that is precisely why it is problematic that QPR have asked him to shake hands with Terry. For one, the gesture of a handshake and ‘being the bigger man’ will be undermined to some extent by the fact that Ferdinand has been asked to by his club. The main issue, though, is that Ferdinand may well shake Terry’s hand despite not wanting to, due to QPR’s influence. Whilst that is something only Ferdinand could answer, it is irrelevant with regards to the question of whether QPR should ask this of Ferdinand.
The importance of how clubs deal with racism was thrown into stark relief by Liverpool’s handling of the Luis Suarez racism saga. Liverpool’s decision to send out their players in t-shirts bearing a graphic of Suarez was denounced by many within the footballing community and their approach has damaged their reputation. While there is an argument that it was worse because Suarez never denied what he had said, instead maintaining that it wasn’t meant as a racial slur, there is potential for a backlash if John Terry ends up being convicted of the racially aggravated public order offence with which he is charged. Moreover, it places Anton Ferdinand in the same situation that Glen Johnson was in when the Liverpool team warmed up in the Suarez t-shirts insomuch that some members of the black footballing community (forgive me please, Diane Abbott) will see it as a tacit forgiving of John Terry. It is unlikely that the outcry will be as strong as Paul McGrath’s denouncement of Johnson as “shameful”, but the problem exists nevertheless. Johnson defended his actions, stating on Twitter that he would defend who he wished, but it would have been far better for Liverpool to have avoided this fiasco by sticking to their written statement and allowing Johnson to show his support independently, thereby reducing the negative impact upon the club.
Accordingly, it would be far better for QPR to leave the decision of whether Ferdinand should shake the hand of the man accused of racially abusing him entirely in the hands of the only man whose opinion matters here – Anton Ferdinand.