Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson insists he has settled his differences with Rio Ferdinand in the wake of the defender refusing to wear a Kick It Out campaign T-shirt prior to Saturday's Premier League meeting with Stoke City, but recent events on and off the field at home and abroad raise significant questions over the on-going battle against racism in football.
Ferdinand and a significant number of other high-profile players did not lend their support to football's equality and inclusion campaign, which will celebrate two decades of sterling work next year, as the fall-out from the race row involving Chelsea captain John Terry and Anton Ferdinand continues.
Red Devils defender Ferdinand's weekend stance, given the circumstances, was completely understandable. Ferguson's immediate post-match response, where he stated he had been 'embarrassed' and that the player would be 'dealt with', was anything but.
Why should the centre-back lend his support to a campaign which he clearly believes is fundamentally flawed? As a human being, as an individual, he has seen a fellow professional and a former international team-mate be found guilty by the Football Association of racially abusing his brother on the football field.
Punishment for Terry was eventually handed down by the FA's Independent Regulatory Commission in the shape of a four-match suspension and a fine of £220,000. That penalty was then accepted by the Blues captain and an apology finally issued nearly 12 months after the original incident at Loftus Road back in October 2011.
In allowing the affair to fester for the best part of a year, the FA have done themselves, the game, and all the parties involved no favours at all, although they have always argued that the criminal proceedings against Terry - in which he was found not guilty at Westminster Magistrates' Court - were not concluded until after Euro 2012.
The burden of proof in the courts and before the FA panel is fundamentally different, with the latter finding Terry guilty "on the balance of probabilities" having described his version of events at Loftus Road as "improbable, implausible and contrived".
Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle, meanwhile, stated in delivering the opposite verdict: "I have assessed John Terry as a credible witness," adding: "He has given effectively the same account throughout."
Given those disparities, it now seems pointless for the FA to have delayed their own disciplinary proceedings. Their stance on allowing Terry to play on for his country also appears flawed, despite stripping him of the captaincy. It was essentially a halfway house of appearing to take a stand, but ensuring that a key member of the squad remained available. That Terry later deciding to walk away from the international scene due to the FA having made his position 'untenable' only added to the sense of farce.
Therein lays the problem for football teams handing out penalties to their own players. You do not need to be of a hugely cynical mind-set to feel that both clubs and countries put the business of results higher on their agenda than taking a stand against unruly individuals.
Chelsea's response to the Terry saga demonstrates this effectively. The Stamford Bridge club's announcement on Thursday that disciplinary action had been taken, but that it would remain confidential, was entirely unsatisfactory. Manager Roberto Di Matteo stuck to the party line in his Friday press conference, before chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Ron Gourlay took to the Talksport airwaves on Saturday morning to reveal that the additional penalty for their multi-millionaire skipper was another 'heavy fine'.
Ferdinand was far from alone in taking a stand. Reading striker Jason Roberts, who on Thursday told Sky Sports News: "It seems like the authorities don't have the stomach to take this on, and if the players don't take it on then nobody will," was as good as his word. Not one player from Swansea or Wigan donned the T-shirts at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, Manchester City duo Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards did likewise, while Anton Ferdinand and a number of his QPR team-mates joined the boycott on Sunday ahead of their game with Everton, along with the Toffees' Victor Anichebe and Sylvain Distin.
Kick it Out, who are supported and funded by the FA, PFA and Premier League, have been an undoubted and hugely effective force for good in working to eradicate the scourge of racism from the game, both on the field and from the terraces, through education and challenging discrimination.
In many ways the group has been dragged unwittingly into a row which is not of their making. But with such a significant number of high-profile players aggrieved by recent events, they clearly feel the only way to get their message across was to take this action.
For Ferguson to suggest Ferdinand would be 'dealt with' is bizarre, with PFA chairman and Kick It Out ambassador Clarke Carlisle admitting: "Everyone has a right to free speech - just like you can't coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can't make somebody wear a T-shirt - although I do personally believe that joining in with the campaign is the best way forward."
In truth, Ferguson's ire was down to the fact that he stated in his pre-match press conference on Friday that all his players would support the Kick It Out campaign, only to have his authority challenged in a very public manner by a senior member of his squad. It would appear that manager and player spectacularly failed to communicate their feelings on the issue prior to the game, with the situation now seemingly having been brought to a swift resolution.
After all, the veteran Scot was particularly vehement in his condemnation of the problem of racism in the game in the wake of the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra row, and did not criticise Ferdinand for refusing to shake the hand of the Liverpool striker after his astonishing decision to snub the Frenchman during the pre-match formalities at Old Trafford back in February.
The FA, too, have been equally strident in their views about the problems of racism in the game in the wake of the disgraceful scenes at the conclusion of England Under-21s' victory away to their Serbian counterparts, with Danny Rose allegedly subjected to abuse and taunts. Demanding action over what occurred in Serbia is a necessity, but the governing body's position on the moral high ground is undermined by their handling of the Terry affair.
UEFA are now investigating the shameful incidents having levelled charges - somewhat confusingly - against both national associations, but do not have the best record in terms of the punishments they levy when it comes to dealing with incidents of racism. Serbia have previously been fined £16,500 in 2007, Croatia were penalised £10,000 the following year and Spain were made to pay £45,000 back in 2004. Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner, meanwhile, was punished to the tune of £80,000 for wearing the wrong pants at Euro 2012. Sponsorship trumps morality, apparently.
So when the penalties from those in power are no kind of effective deterrent for the offences which are committed, then it seems unlikely that further significant headway can be made in the battle against racism, no matter what it says on the T-shirts.
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