For the second time in his career, John Terry has been stripped of the captaincy of the England football team after the Football Association decided he could no longer hold the position while awaiting trial for racially abusing an opponent.
The governing body had come under increased pressure to act after Mr Terry was formally charged this week with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand during Chelsea’s match against Queen’s Park Rangers in October, casting a shadow over England’s preparations for this summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
The case has presented another thorny test for the FA at a time when its governance is under scrutiny, not least over its ability to get a grip on the behaviour of the national game’s multi-millionaire stars.
Debate over racism in football has been a feature of the current season, with the Terry incident following shortly after another high-profile case of alleged racism by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez against Patrice Evra of Manchester United.
In a statement, the FA said it was “in the interests of all parties that John has the responsibilities of captaincy removed at this time”.
Stripping the captaincy from him “in no way infers any suggestion of guilt in relation to the charge made against John Terry”, the FA said. Mr Terry denies the charges.
David Davies, former FA chief executive, said there were parallels between Mr Terry and Chris Huhne, who yesterday quit as energy secretary after being told he was being charged with perverting the course of justice.
“They are innocent until proven guilty,” said Mr Davies. “Both have in different ways lost their jobs. But you have to make a judgment about what you could call the ‘noises off’. Do they cause a distraction?”
The “noises off” for the FA are not just to do with preparing the England team for a major tournament. Tackling racism in football has become a touchstone for whether the sport is capable of becoming more progressive. As part of the reform drive, the FA is making concerted efforts to tackle all forms of discrimination, including racism.
It takes a stand when England players are racially abused playing in other countries, and Mr Bernstein publicly criticised Sepp Blatter in November after the Fifa president said a handshake was enough to settle racial abuse on the pitch.
In the Suarez-Evra case, the FA made a bold statement by charging the Liverpool player for racist abuse and banning him for eight games. Conscious of the lack of diversity in the FA hierarchy itself, the board last month ratified Heather Rabbatts as its first female director.
Mr Davies, a founder of football’s anti-racism campaign Kick It Out, said that while the FA had made strides, the problem was deepest at grassroots level. “Do I think that they need new ways and new initiatives? Yes, I do,” he said.
Despite losing the captaincy, Mr Terry has not been excluded from the England squad, leaving coach Fabio Capello free to pick him for the European Championships.
But after a tumultuous career, Mr Terry’s England days are probably nearing their end. The Chelsea defender, capped 67 times by his country and captain on 34 occasions, was first given the armband in 2006, but lost it in 2008 shortly after Mr Capello took over.
He was reinstated later that year, but then stripped of the job in 2010 over his affair with the former girlfriend of an England team-mate, Wayne Bridge.
Mr Capello gave him back the job last year, replacing Rio Ferdinand, brother of Anton.
Mr Terry will no doubt be piqued at why the FA waited until yesterday to act. The governing body has known since December 21 that the Crown Prosecution Service intended to press charges.
In its statement, the FA said that it had been expecting the trial to take place prior to the European Championships. But at Wednesday’s court hearing, the player’s legal representatives asked for the trial date to be set after the end of the season. The judge set a date of July 9.