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50-50 Challenge

Lineker: His view on the issues of 2012

It has been a year full of incident in the football world and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker has reported on it all. Sam Pilger caught up with the former Spurs striker, now one of the leading presenters in the game, to find out his views on the main talking points.

Q. Are you alarmed at how much racism has come back?
What you have now is the probing of the camera footage. You can see every word that players utter and, as it is in the heat of the moment, people say things they don't really mean. It is disconcerting, it is a concern, [but] compared to the general public there is a lot less racism within in the game than there ever would be on out on the streets, or in various establishments or businesses. When I played you didn't think in the dressing room: 'White player, black player, white player'. You think, 'Good player, great player, not very good player'. I still think that is how players think today.

Q. What did you think of the punishment given to John Terry [for racially abusing West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand]?
You have to try and be consistent. Either Luis Suarez [an eight-game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra and repeating the word] is too tough, or Terry is not enough [four-games and a fine of £220,000] . Personally, I think they have to be tough. It has to be kicked out of the game. You have to make players aware that if they do something like that, then they are going to suffer.

Q.Should John Terry remain as a Chelsea player and captain if the club say they have a zero tolerance to racism?
Exactly, they were slightly hypocritical about some of the things… [because] they have come out with zero tolerance. I suppose you have to be careful here as obviously he was found not guilty by a court of law, which Chelsea will fall back on.

Q. Would you have felt comfortable seeing Terry play for England again after he was found guilty of racial abuse?
Players will serve bans and come back, I don't think it necessarily means you have to be banned for life. You have to be careful of what you say. At this stage of his career, it was probably time for him to retire any way, a lot of them do at that age. It was never a comfortable marriage and now it's ended in divorce.

Q. Were the FA too lenient on Ashley Cole? What would have happened if you had called Bert Millichip a t***?
Most people would probably have agreed! Twitter can be dangerous and players should realise you can't tweet while you're angry. You have to remember it is being read by a lot of people. I tweeted straight afterwards, 'Ashley, apologise quickly' and I'm sure I had nothing to do with it, but he did. We all make mistakes, we all say things in the heat of the moment, we all do it and have to apologise, I am not going to be holier than thou. It was a daft thing to do. I'm sure he knows that himself. Q.What sort of punishment should players face? Does issuing them with fines make any difference?
The truth is, players are not really bothered by fines, they just aren't. They don't like it, [but] it's not really going to change their life as they earn such ridiculous amounts of money. The thing players do care about is playing and missing games.

Q.During the London 2012 Olympics, a lot of people asked why couldn't footballers be more like Olympians? How did you feel about that debate and how footballers were portrayed?
Let's be honest, at the Olympics someone fell of his bike on purpose; supposedly someone smashed up their boat on purpose to get a restart in the rowing; the badminton players didn't try hard on purpose; and there were numerous drugs stories to come out of the Olympics. But we don't focus on it like we would with football, where it would be the story. You must remember a large percentage of footballers get on with their lives and their families, they do a lot for the community and a lot of charity work. They will train and play hard, but they are not talked about.

Q.During the Olympics a common observation seemed to be that the Olympians were more humble than footballer?
It is easy to be humble when you've won... it is very different. Football is so huge and so much in the spotlight all the time, and footballers have to peak all year around, whereas the Olympics are only every four years, but I admire them training for one event and that's it. They are very different things. You have to remember the Olympics is the only chance for a lot of sports to promote themselves in front of millions and they understand that: 'This is my moment, I've got to make the most of it, let's go on all the television shows, let's be really nice.'

Footballers get asked to be interviewed every day of the year and it becomes a bit of a bore. I'm not saying that it is right, and some footballers could do themselves so much more good with a bit of nous and by doing a bit more. When footballers do that you think they are actually likable. But there is this wariness about the press from players.