The chairman of Kick It Out, Lord Herman Ouseley, has launched a damning attack on the Football Association, the Premier League, Chelsea and Liverpool for a failure of "morality" and "leadership" over their handling of the racist abuse incidents by John Terry and Luis Suárez.
Lord Ouseley, who has decided to stand down from the FA Council and his other FA positions, said Chelsea and Liverpool protected their players because of their value as "assets", even when they were alleged, then proven by independent FA commissions, to have racially abused opponents. He describes the last year, when football has been rocked by repeated incidents of racism, as "12 months wasted in hypocrisy" by the authorities.
"There is very little morality in football among the top clubs," Ouseley told the Guardian, reflecting on a difficult year that turned turbulent for Ouseley himself and Kick It Out when groups of players boycotted the campaign's T-shirts during its October weeks of action.
"Leadership is so important; you have to send a powerful message that racism is completely unacceptable," he said. "But there is a moral vacuum. The big clubs look after their players as assets. There was no bold attitude from them, to say that they would not put up with it."
Terry was found guilty in September of having racially abused Anton Ferdinand in Chelsea's match against Queens Park Rangers the previous October, by an FA commission which stated it did not believe Terry's defence and expressed "considerable doubts" over his team-mate Ashley Cole's evidence. Despite that, neither Chelsea, the FA nor the Premier League had made strong statements of disapproval, either of Terry's racist abuse itself or the players' discredited evidence.
"The condemnations have been mealy mouthed," Ouseley said. "The FA did a good job with how they handled the independent commissions themselves – they showed that firm action is now taken when racist abuse is reported to them.
"We want all players and fans to feel confident about reporting abuse. But the FA did not say anything about the lies and distortions which came out in John Terry's and Ashley Cole's evidence. Instead the players are protected. The Premier League could have set the tone; they and the FA do a good job in community work. But on this, I have not heard anything from the Premier League."
Ouseley was particularly aggrieved at the supportive statements made by Chelsea and Liverpool and their then managers, André Villas-Boas and Kenny Dalglish, when Terry and Suárez were accused of racist abuse. Dalglish gave Suárez unqualified support and famously backed the Liverpool players to wear T-shirts portraying Suárez as a victim of injustice even after the striker had been found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra and banned for eight matches.
The England manager, Roy Hodgson, praised Terry as a "warrior" and selected him for the European Championship, despite the criminal charge pending of a racially aggravated public order offence, of which Terry was acquitted. Hodgson did not select Rio Ferdinand, Anton's brother, on "footballing grounds", a decision Ouseley questioned and criticised for sending the wrong message on racism, particularly to black players.
By contrast, until the criminal trial, then the FA commission's hearing, Kick It Out took the position that it must say nothing publicly which could be taken as critical of Suárez or Terry and possibly prejudicial to a fair hearing.
"We were observing the process," Ouseley said, "but the managers were speaking out and sticking up for Luis Suárez and John Terry. The FA should have asserted themselves, said they would not put up with people disrespecting the process, but the FA were very slack and weak. The whole 12 months was wasted in hypocrisy. Even now the FA has not acknowledged the hurt and pain caused to Anton Ferdinand and his family after the length of time it took.
"When Rio Ferdinand was told he was not good enough, whereas John Terry went to the Euros, that hurt the black players the most. They could see nobody speaking up for them, and the establishment seemed to be looking after its favourites."
Ouseley said he had felt "very frustrated" when Kick It Out became the target of criticism, because many players who declined to wear the T-shirts did not explain publicly why not. Then, when Jason Roberts, the Reading striker who was a leading figure in the protests, did articulate that his grievances were with the football authorities, the Professional Footballers' Association and Kick It Out, Ouseley said he accepted it as a valid critique.
"Jason Roberts said we are not doing enough directly against racism and Kick It Out has become too broad an anti-discrimination campaign. I can accept that as a valid view and he put his case eloquently. If people feel we need more of a cutting edge, then we have to address that. But many players did not articulate why they were doing it and it seemed the organisation which for 19 years has been fighting racism became the one which took the criticism."
Ouseley said he is considering resigning from Kick It Out, when he can be confident the organisation is strong enough and has recovered from a traumatic year. He has already decided to stand down from the FA council and other FA posts. He said that although fighting discrimination in football remains important, it has distracted him from his work with more vulnerable groups, including unemployed people, when racism is again on the increase.