The John Terry racial abuse case was a waste of the Westminster Magistrates' Court's time, but it was also revealing all the same.
Terry, the former England football captain, was charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand when Chelsea played Queens Park Rangers in a Premier League match in October.
The Chelsea star used a descriptive three-word phrase when addressing Ferdinand, whose mother is Irish and father is from St Lucia in the Caribbean. Even though Terry's first and third words would, in many sections of society, be deemed offensive, they were not the problem.
It was the fact that he split them with the word "black" that was the issue. That evidently made him a racist and required five days of the court's time.
Eventually Terry was cleared of the charge.
Surely the English Football Association should have dealt with the matter.
After all, the FA last year imposed an eight-match ban on Liverpool's Luis Suarez for abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.
It's always tricky once events on the sports field are reviewed in court.
For one thing, context is missing. Comments that might be normal during a sports contest seem far worse when repeated in court months later by men wearing suits.
Unless the actions are so appalling that they demand civil action, they should always be dealt with by the relevant sport's authorities.
The problem is that football administrators have been woefully inept for decades.
According to testimony in the Terry case, an incredible range of abuse is delivered by players at opponents during football matches.
Anything is fair game: Poor form, the size of a player's pay packet, comments about various parts of an opponent's anatomy, his bad breath (!), problems with nerves, rumours his team-mates and coach don't like him ... these all get a good airing.
And the comments are delivered in the most spiteful, abuse-filled, hurtful manner possible.
Apparently, under a bizarre code of ethics, players don't comment on opponent's wives or girlfriends, although there are lapses.
It shows how juvenile and gormless many footballers are. Whatever happened to beating an opponent with skill?
But then football has long been the lowest common denominator in terms of sport.
Why are football stars allowed to behave in a way we would not tolerate of our seven-year-olds in a Saturday morning junior football match?
The way top players can surround a referee, abuse him and point their fingers at him is not tolerated in rugby or league, let alone tennis or netball.
Football authorities haven't done enough to rein in players' behaviour.
It is permitted, which means it must be acceptable.
That's why every high-profile match is bedevilled by cheating - players wrongly claiming they have been fouled, or that it is their throw-in when they know full well it isn't.
I don't say top footballers are any more stupid or dishonest than many other top sports stars, but they have been allowed to get away with a lot more because of appallingly weak administration.
It's only when something that has occurred on the football pitch is dealt with in an entirely different forum that we realise just how bad things have got.
Will football authorities be prodded into action after the John Terry case? Somehow, I doubt it.
* Joseph Romanos is a Wellington sports writer and broadcaster
- © Fairfax NZ News
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