Do not underestimate the significance of tonight’s joint statement by Rio Ferdinand and his brother Anton in the fight against racism that had threatened to spiral out of control.

Make no mistake, the threat of a breakaweay Black Players Union, which alarmingly looked likely after a weekend of discontent, would have been a divisive outcome that could have taken football in England back to the dark ages.

Not only has Rio overcome the embarrassment of the communication failure with his manager Sir Alex Ferguson over the Kick It Out T Shirt, his diplomacy has defused the race war that was starting to get ugly.

By speaking out and saying what most decent football fans have known all along, the Ferdinands have averted a disastrous split in our game.

In a strongly worded statement they have criticised the Football Association, Professional Footballers Association and Kick It Out for not being strong enough in the fight against racism. They have identified the John Terry case – which resulted in the Chelsea captain receiving a four match ban for racially abusing Anton – as exposing deep divisions in the game.  But crucially, they have ruled out joining a breakaway Black Players’ Union and vowed to work with all the existing organisations for the betterment of the game.

Welcomed by Kick it Out who have pledged to step by their campaign, the statement coincided with the announcement of a new six-point plan by the PFA to tackle racism with tougher and more decisive action. It is the best possible result in the week of action intended to unite football against racism.

Meanwhile, Rio has the chance to well and truly take the moral high ground this weekend by offering his hand to John Terry and Ashley Cole when Manchester United visit Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

– BY JOHN GUBBA

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