But even if Terry is in fact a dyed-in-the-wool racist, he’s being prosecuted for voicing an opinion, however ignorant and bigoted. Terry did not physically assault Ferdinand, nor did he incite anyone to abuse him or attack him. He may well have said something deeply insulting, but last time I checked, freedom of speech included the freedom to say things that others find offensive and repellant.

And if Terry is convicted, the maximum fine of $4,000 — which on his weekly wage of $250,000 he’ll be able to pay off with two hours and 38 minutes of “work” — is hardly going to force him to rethink deep-set attitudes, even if the negative attention causes him to hold his tongue in the future.

Terry is not being prosecuted because anyone seriously believes it will advance the cause of race relations. He’s being prosecuted because the self-flagellating, politically correct elites who dominate British politics, the criminal justice system and the media — and of course its flourishing race relations industry — demand it to fuel their delusions of self-righteousness and disdain for white working-class British people.

Britain’s soccer authorities are understandably keen to erase the stain of racism from the game, and remarkable progress has been made since the 1970s and 1980s, when black players were routinely subjected to racial abuse from massed ranks of opposing fans (and sometimes from their own supporters), and had bananas hurled at them on the pitch.

As in the wider society, that progress has come as a result of changing attitudes. And in soccer, progress was also made thanks to the skill and character of leading black players, which persuaded fans to look at them as footballers first and foremost, and to disregard their skin color. The fight against racism on the soccer pitch will not be won in the police cell or the courtroom, any more than will be the fight against racism on the street.

Terry should be dealt with, as Suarez was, by those who run soccer. If he’s guilty, let him be pilloried by fans and the press; let him be shunned by black players, and by self-respecting fellow players of every color; let him be paraded in front of schoolchildren to admit that his behavior was inexcusable.

Putting him in the dock, and turning a crude insult into a hate crime, is another step down the road to the routine criminalization of free speech and free thought.