England captain John Terry will face a criminal charge of using racist language towards footballer Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League game.
Mr Terry is alleged to have used racist language towards the 26-year-old Queens Park Rangers player during Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road on 23 October.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Mr Terry was accused of a racially aggravated public order offence.
The 31-year-old vowed to fight the charge "tooth and nail".
Police questioned the Chelsea captain under caution in November and a file on the matter was sent to the CPS at the beginning of December.
'I am disappointed'
Alison Saunders, chief crown prosecutor for London, said: "I have today advised the Metropolitan Police that John Terry should be prosecuted for a racially aggravated public order offence following comments allegedly made during a football match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea on 23 October.
"The decision was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and, after careful consideration of all the evidence, I am satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute this case."
She continued: "He is now summonsed with a criminal offence and has the right to a fair trial.
"It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice his trial."
The decision to charge Mr Terry was taken after police received a complaint from a member of the public.
The CPS had asked police for more information regarding the incident before making their decision.
New evidence, featuring previously unseen footage from TV cameras, was subsequently handed to the CPS last week.
Mr Ferdinand has only said he has "very strong" feelings on the subject.
Mr Terry said: "I am disappointed with the decision to charge me and hope to be given the chance to clear my name as quickly as possible.
"I have never aimed a racist remark at anyone and count people from all races and creeds among my closest friends.
"I will fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence."
He added: "I have campaigned against racism and believe there is no place for it in society."
The centre-half made his England debut against Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and has been capped 72 times.
He replaced David Beckham as captain of the national side in 2006.
The Chelsea player then lost the captaincy amid allegations of an affair with the girlfriend of team-mate Wayne Bridge before the last World Cup.
He won the England captaincy back in March.
The defender has won the Premier League three times with Chelsea, but missed a penalty in a shoot-out against Manchester United which would have won them the 2008 Champions League.
A statement released by Chelsea read: "John has made it clear he denies the charge and is determined to do all he can to prove his innocence.
"Chelsea FC has always been fully supportive of John in this matter and will continue to be so.
"The club finds all forms of discrimination abhorrent and we are proud of the work we undertake campaigning on this important issue."
The club said it could not comment further while the legal process continues.
The FA had put its own investigation on hold until the CPS decision was made. The FA said it would not be making any comment, however BBC sports editor David Bond said he understands that the FA would not suspend him.
The footballer plans to lead out his club against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Thursday.
Mr Terry is due before West London Magistrates' Court on 1 February.
The maximum sentence for the offence is a fine of £2,500.
As a summary offence under the Crime and Disorder Act, it will be fully heard in a magistrates' court.
The decision to prosecute John Terry comes the day after Liverpool striker Luis Suarez received an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
Lord Ousely, chairman of the charity Kick it Out which campaigns against all forms of discrimination in football, said it was a "very sad day for football" and added that he was "surprised" at the CPS decision.
He said: "From my point of view, yes, it would be very good if we could have moved ahead and not have to go through this.
"But it's equally important to understand that we do positive educational work alongside trying to work with the authorities to make sure that they enforce their own regulations, their own standards when these allegations are made."
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of Professional Footballers' Association, said he wanted to warn members that "just because it is a football pitch it is not a vacuum" and the law of the land applies.