LONDON – Being acquitted by a court of racial abuse might not be the end of the matter for Chelsea captain John Terry.
The English Football Association has to conclude its own investigation and decide whether to charge Terry over his confrontation with Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand, which led to the failed criminal prosecution.
Action could also be taken against Ferdinand, who — like Terry — admitted using obscene language during the Premier League match that led to the trial.
The FA had to suspend its investigation into October's west London derby when the police probe kicked in. However, the governing body's inquiry was restarted after the chief magistrate at Westminster Magistrates' Court decided Friday there was no evidence to find Terry guilty of a racially-aggravated public order offense.
The FA, which stripped Terry of the England captaincy over the case, said its priority is to "conclude its own enquiries."
There is a lower burden of proof for FA disciplinary tribunals — balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases.
And this puts the FA a "difficult position" as it contemplates whether to act, according to Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor.
The FA banned Liverpool striker Luis Suarez for eight matches last season for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in another Premier League match in October.
And, even if the FA decides not to pursue the racism claims a court threw out, the governing body could charge Terry — and Ferdinand — with bringing the game into disrepute or misconduct for their foul and abusive language.
"There were normal verbal exchanges between the players during the game — however unpleasant, it's a fact of the modern game," Terry said in a police interview provided to the media. "I felt that QPR players were trying to unsettle us."
Taunting Terry over high-profile allegations of an extramarital affair, Ferdinand also made an "obscene gesture," as the Chelsea player described it.
The FA has already interviewed Ferdinand and Terry, whose comments to the governing body's disciplinary official were heard in court.
Prosecutors claimed that Terry snapped in response to the insults and bellowed "(expletive) black (expletive) at Ferdinand.
And the magistrate who ruled on the case said in his judgment that Terry's explanation was "certainly under the cold light of forensic examination, unlikely. It is not the most obvious response. It is sandwiched between other undoubted insults."
But chief magistrate Howard Riddle decided it was "impossible" to be sure what Terry said in the key exchange and could not discount the player's defense that he used the offensive term sarcastically to counter the obscenity he claims Ferdinand was accusing him of using.
Former Tottenham striker Garth Crooks, an anti-racism campaigner, said Terry should not have been using the words at all, adding: "For Terry, this is only halftime."
"This saga is not over for John," Crooks told the BBC. "The Football Association under their rules need to decide: has he broken any of their rules — ungentlemanly conduct, professional wrongdoing, bringing the game into disrepute?"
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris