Prosecutors made the decision to charge Terry on Wednesday after studying footage that was broadcast live around the world in October, showing Terry apparently hurling abuse at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League match.
Terry has said his comments were taken out of context and vowed to fight the charges, after prosecutors declared the defender had constituted a “racially aggravated public order offence.”
Just a day earlier, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, a Uruguay international, received an eight-match ban and STG40,000 ($A63,000) fine from the FA for racially abusing a Manchester United player during another match in October.
Although Suarez’s abusive conduct is yet to be investigated by the police, anti-racism campaigners are hailing the twin-pronged actions as evidence that new weapons are being deployed against racism in soccer.
Racist abuse in European football is nothing new, although most high-profile cases have involved abusive chants from supporters toward opposing players – not on-field incidents.
While several campaigns have been launched in recent years to combat the problem, the sport’s international governing body has a mixed record of success.
A wave of outrage was provoked by FIFA President Sepp Blatter last month when he downplayed the issue and suggested players involved in such spats should settle the issue with a handshake after the game.
The latest investigations in England come despite the country having made huge strides in largely eradicating the racial abuse of black players that blighted the game here in the 1970s and ’80s.
Several black players in that era, including England and Liverpool winger John Barnes, faced racist abuse without the perpetuators being punished.
“It is easy for (the FA) to jump on the bandwagon now, but why didn’t they do it in the ’80s?” Barnes said.
The FA has yet to issue a ruling on the Terry case, saying it will wait for the police investigation to be completed first.
Police and prosecutors became involved after a member of the public made a complaint against the defender, having seen footage of his comments.
Terry will have to appear at West London Magistrates’ Court on February one in a case that could threaten both his public image – worth millions in endorsements – and his international career.
Terry already lost the England captaincy once, ahead of the 2010 World Cup, after being embroiled in a sex scandal.
While he regained the armband this year a guilty verdict would make it difficult for him to represent England at next summer’s European Championship – especially since he often partners with Ferdinand’s brother Rio in central defence.