In August this year it was revealed that former Cardiff manager Malky Mackay and his sidekick Iain Moody had sent racist, sexist and homophobic texts. The matter was referred to the FA for them to deal with. We are now in December. Mackay and Moody haven’t even been charged by the FA never mind punished. And if anybody else is as astonished as me by this state of affairs, the reason for it is simple. And it is a UK obsession that is holding us back. namely, the committee.
As yesterday’s Daily Telegraph said, an “expert working group” (another name for a committee) has been meeting to discuss the Mackay affair. Ah, so that’s why there has been no progress. Committees are in fact designed to slow down progress. One reason why Liverpool’s transfer dealings during the summer were a disaster (£16 million dud Mario Balotelli for example) must be that they are being decided by a six-man transfer committee. It is very hard to get six human beings to agree on anything – and this must be costing Liverpool dear in a market where speed can be of the essence. And when FA chairman Greg Dyke wanted to deal with English football’s international problems what did he do? He set up a commission (yet another name for a committee). Another way to waste time.
This of course is not unique to football. English cricket is addicted to committees. In the last 64 years it has had two Altham Committees (1950 and 1956), a Palmer Committee (1966), a Murray Committee (1992), two Acfield Committees (1996 and 2002) and a Schofield Committee (2006). All designed to make the public think something was being done whereas the real intention was to fudge the issue in the hope that by the time the committee had reported the press and public had lost interest in the problem. And as for rugby, well former England captain Will Carling once called the men who run that sport “57 old farts”…
At least politicians are more honest than sports administrators. Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson loved Royal Commissions. In his two spells as Prime Minister (1964-70 and 1974-76) he set up ten of them. And why did he do that? This is straight from Mr Wilson’s mouth. They “take minutes and waste years”. So all he was doing, by his own admission, was fudging the big decisions. Just like the FA are doing today, just like the cricket establishment did in the past.
But is there an alternative to this committee quagmire? Yes there is. But you have to look across the Atlantic. All the big US sports have commissioners in charge – powerful men who don’t fudge big decisions, they make them. And they have the power to do just that.
Two racism cases sum up the difference between the two systems. The man who has given Mackay employment – Wigan owner Dave Whelan – made racist and anti-Semitic remarks to the Guardian last month. The FA have charged him – but for reasons that must remain a mystery have given him an extra week to respond to the charges (he now has to the 12th of this month). In contrast, in the US the owner of National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling was caught making racist remarks on video. That was on April 25th 2014. On April 29th 2014 NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, and banned him from the NBA for life. He was forced to sell the Clippers franchise. Four days. That is how long the NBA, with a Commissioner with the power to take decisive action, took to banish a racist scumbag from the NBA for ever. Sterling can consider himself unlucky. If he owned a football club, it would take ages for him to get punished – if he ever was.
It is now clear what needs to be done. The rule of football* by committees of fuddy-duddies must end. We have to copy the US system and appoint a Commissioner of Football to take charge of the whole professional game with power to take swift action when needed. That person could then banish the likes of Mackay, Moody and Whelan(and convicted rapist Ched Evans) from football for ever. And very quickly.
And as for who should be the Commissioner? When baseball invented the office in 1920 they insisted it should be someone outside the industry and appointed judge and baseball fan Keneshaw Mountain Landis. That is what I would do. No ex-players or managers need apply. Off the top of my head, I think five people could do this job (though I’m sure many more could). The five I have in mind are Karren Brady, Heather Rabbatts, Jean Williams, Carrie Dunn and Lord Ouseley (founder and chairperson of the anti-racism campaign Kick it Out).
Two of these people are black and four are female. As one of the main problems in football is racism and sexism, a black and/or female Commissioner would send a strong message and be my personal preference for the job.
We in the UK have imported a lot of things from the US. Some brilliant – the Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy for example. And some awful. like Black Friday. It is time to import another idea. it is time to send for the Commissioner.
*Although I’ve concentrated on football cricket, rugby – in fact any sport in the UK – could benefit from having a Commissioner.
Two stories have appeared in the last week, neither of which have been linked. But they should be. The first one was in last week’s Sunday Telegraph, in which Henry Winter claimed that grass-roots football in England was in crisis – a view backed up by English FA chairman Greg Dyke. Winter said football needed to invest more in grass-roots – no arguments there – but he also claimed “Whitehall should do more “(by “Whitehall” he means the UK Government) and by “do more” he means football should get more Government money. But should an industry that has a Premier League that makes £3 BILLION out of TV money – and will soon probably earn even more – and an FA that can blow £757 MILLION on that white elephant called Wembley – get any Government funding at all at a time of austerity when the UK is swimming in a sea of debt? In my opinion no.
Especially if Ched Evans plays again. Ched Evans is a Sheffield United footballer who has been convicted of rape and sentenced to five years in prison. Having served over two years he will soon be released and – showing no remorse – wants to play professional football again. That is unacceptable. Football has a bad enough image with its treatment of women as it is. If it lets Evans back into the game it will deserve to be called the “nasty sport” (I’ve named that after a remark from UK Home Secretary Theresa May who once called her own party the “nasty party”). What it would not deserve if Evans played professionally again is Government money and the Government should impose that as a condition for any funding football might get. If Evans plays …no money for football.
But the Government should go further. Football is racist, sexist and homophobic and in its present culture does not deserve state support. If it wants funding from society it should be made to embrace society’s values. Here are four things that I would insist football MUST do if it wants Government money.
First of all it must bring in the “Rooney Rule”*. There are 92 professional football clubs in England. Only two have black managers and black coaches like Eddie Newton claim they are victims of racism. The implementation of the Rooney Rule would give black coaches a chance to get on the managerial ladder
Second homophobic chanting at football matches should be made a criminal offence (I was amazed it wasn’t already). This was proposed at the Liberal Democrats conference last week and there is absolutely no reason why football shouldn’t crack down on it. One club – Brighton – a place with a large gay population – has its fans regularly suffer homophobic chants. One suspects if it were Liverpool or Manchester United fans suffering something should be done. And it should be.
My next two ideas are more controversial. First men should be banned from coaching women’s teams. First of all it would Give women a route into the profession. Of the eight clubs in the Women’s Super League (WSL) one(Chelsea) has a female coach. At the start of the season it was two so the situation is getting worse. Secondly a ban on male coaches would mean there is no risk in the UK of the horrific molestation of female players in Africa exposed by the excellent Jennifer Doyle. This rule is necessary as UK politics shows. Only the Labour Party insists some seats should have women candidates. In the 2010 UK General Election Labour had 258 seats to the Conservatives’ 307. However they had 81 women MPs to the Conservatives’ 48. That proves “positive discrimination” works.
My most controversial idea is the ban on mixed competitive football – men and women playing together – should be lifted. it should be up to individuals who they want to play football with. The ban can be ludicrous sometimes. Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford Tracey Crouch was banned from the House of Commons football team for being female. As a football player and a coach she would play for that team on merit. I know FIFA say the male and female game should be kept separate but there are amateur mixed leagues in the US and no one complains so why can’t we have that here? FIFA, I suspect are only concerned with the professional game. I hardly think Sepp Blater knows – or cares – about the House of Commons’ football team. Besides any rule that makes me feel sorry for a Conservative MP has to be wrong!
In my opinion football should not get Government funding unless what I wrote above happens. If an industry wants Government money it should live by the rules of society. if the football establishment does not want to change fine. But it should be told in that case it should fund the grass-roots itself with NO Government money.
*The “Rooney Rule” – nothing to do with Wayne – is a rule in American Football that states that NFL teams must interview at least one non-white candidate for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is named after Dan Rooney the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee.
It is fair to say it has not ben a good couple of weeks for America’s National Football League (NFL). Four different players – Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Roy McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer – face allegations of domestic abuse and a fifth – Adrian Peterson – faces allegations of hitting a four-year-old child. Some might say that is just an unlucky coincidence but they would be wrong. Since current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came into office in September 2006 there have been 56 cases of domestic abuse in the NFL. And what tough punishments have been dished out by Goodell in that time?. Answer: The 56 cases have been hit with a ban of 13 games between them. This does not include Rice who has been suspended indefinitely. One would think Goodell doesn’t give a toss about domestic violence but it gets worse. A video was released earlier this month of Rice abusing his wife his wife in an elevator. It has been revealed that this video was sent to the NFL in April – which if true suggests a cover up. Also Bill Simmons has been suspended from ESPN for calling Goodell ” a liar” Question: Why has ESPN suspended him? If what he said is not true Goodell could sue him. I just think the establishment are trying to turn the US into North Korea by not allowing criticism of Goodell. But as it is unlikely Goodell will read this I can say that Roger Goodell is a sexist scumbag who should be sacked from his £23.6 million a year job and replaced by Condoleezza Rice with the latter given a mandate to do to the NFL what Margaret Thatcher did to 1970s Britain – go through it like a dose of salts and impose sweeping changes.
For the fact is the whole culture of American football is sexist. Any sport that forces women to play it in underwear – the Legends Football League*(LFL) and forces its cheerleaders to take the “jiggle test” as members of the Buffalo Jills (yuck!) cheerleading squad have said – has serious problems. And the sport is an obstacle to gender equality in another way. This is because of the “money-eating monster” that is college football. Colleges are supposed to provide equal opportunities for women in sport under Title IX legislation. But as Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano point out (in “Playing With the Boys page 247) most US colleges don’t spend as much on all women’s sport combined as they do on football. As they further point out men are victims of this too. Colleges cut minority male sports and blame it on Title IX whereas the fact is as the book points out “They should blame football”. Quite why the NFL should have federal funding for what is in effect their minor leagues is a mystery. The law should insist that all colleges should spend the same money on women’s sport as they do on men’s. And if that forces college football to face a dose of George Osbourne style austerity – or even better forces its abolition – then so be it.
As a Brit what really concerns me is that the NFL also pollutes my own country. There is a NFL match in London tomorrow – Oakland v Miami – and two others during the season. There is even talk of an NFL franchise coming to London. That is totally unacceptable. We have more than enough problems with sexism in our own sport without importing an even more sexist sport from abroad. And if that is not bad enough the LFL is coming to Manchester next year. What is the UK Government doing about this? They should be telling the NFL that unless it cleans up its act – by sacking Goodell and introducing a minimum five-year ban for domestic violence as well as closing down the LFL which should not be allowed to exist at all never mind come to the UK – it will not be allowed to stage games here or even be on UK TV. (any UK fan who wants to watch it could still watch it online). The NFL is wallowing in a pile of sexist sewage. Until it cleans itself up it should have no place in the UK or on UK TV screens.
*This League used to be called the “Lingerie Football League” which is a truer reflection of what it is. it probably changed its name to try to con people.
So Oscar Pistorius has learned his fate. After a trial that seemed to go on forever, he has been found not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) by judge Thokozle Masipa. All that is left now is for him to be sentenced – which will happen on October 13th. He could get fifteen years. he could be let off with a fine. In my opinion, anything less than 10 years is unacceptable. He killed another human being. End of story.
There are a couple of lessons that the legal systems in England and Scotland* can learn from the Pistorius trial however. The first one is that the jury system is not fit for purpose. As mentioned above it was a judge that decided Pistorius’ guilt or innocence (the fact that the judge was a black woman and she was deciding the fate of a white Afrikaner can be seen as part of Nelson Mandela’s legacy). I suspect a jury would have found Pistorius not guilty as they would have been starstruck by the Olympian. Besides why should non experts decide a human being’s fate? If your car breaks down you go to a qualified mechanic. if you’re ill you go to a doctor. If you’re in debt you go to a bank manager. All experts in their field. And yet to find out if a person is guilty of a serious offence you take people at random off an electoral register who might (or might not) understand law. An example of how this can go wrong was seen last year in the case of Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of former UK Cabinet minister and MP Chris Huhne. Her first trial collapsed because the jury could not understand the facts meaning a retrial was needed – a waste of taxpayers money which would not have happened had there been a judge deciding her fate. Another problem is coercion. If you are selected for jury duty you have to turn up. That means you will have people who don’t want to be there. I know. I was on a jury once**. I reckon two-thirds of us (myself included) did not want to be there. I suspect that must affect your behaviour when you are there. The jury system has lasted 800 years. It is an anachronism. Time for a change.
The Pistorius trial was televised. Last night on Sky News’ “Week Review” British journalists Kevin Maguire and Isabel Hardman both said court cases in the UK should be televised. They are wrong. In fact they are dangerously wrong. The fact that the Pistorius trial was televised turned the killing of an innocent young woman into a global soap opera which is totally unacceptable. Besides think of the witnesses. A lot of witnesses in the Pistorius trial said they were overwhelmed by being on television (even though they had the option not to allow their faces to be shown. Most chose not to). A court is scary enough as it is. In my time as a juror I found the court frightening and I was just watching and listening. And what of the victims? What if Reeva Steenkamp had been injured and not killed? Should she have to go through the ordeal of giving evidence on TV just to satisfy the lust of a celebrity obsessed culture? In my opinion, no. Just because the public are interested does not mean there is a public interest defence for showing trials on TV. Some things are too important to be turned into showbiz. Court cases are among these things. The only court cases on TV should be fictional.
Finally some people have said if Pistorius gets off with a fine he should be allowed to run again. NO. Sport has enough problems with its treatment of women as it is. A convicted rapist might be allowed to play football next year when he is out of prison. Wife beater Ray Rice was only banned from American football when video evidence emerged showing how serious his offence was. To allow someone who killed a woman to continue his athletic career would only make sport look like an industry where you can do what you want to women and still be welcomed back to the fold. Not good enough.
*Although the UK is still together (for a few days at least!) the Scottish legal system has always been separate from the rest of the UK. One example. In Scotland a jury has 15 members. In the rest of the UK there are only 12 jury members.
**The law does not allow me to say anything about the case.
We all know FIFA is racist, sexist, homophobic, arrogant and has contempt for the law. It is a bit of a shock to discover they don’t even have respect for their own rules but a new story confirms this.
The excellent British magazine World Soccer (although judging by its content it should be called World Men’sSoccer but that is a different story)has an interesting article in its September issue (pages 36-38) that shows UEFA and FIFA are ignoring their own rules. it will surprise no one to learn it is to do with the 2018 World Cup hosts Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Earlier this year Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution upholding the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, and that Russia’s annexation “has no validity”. This did not have anything to do with football until July when three Crimean teams were moved from the Ukrainian League and entered into the Russian League instead. The three teams were from Simferopol, Sevastopol and Yalta. The point being that UEFA rules do not allow teams from one country to play in another country’s League at all, while FIFA rules allow it if both the FAs agree* – which considering Ukraine (and the UN) consider Crimea as still part of Ukraine is not going to happen. The punishment for breaking this rule should be suspension of the federation concerned. In other words Russia should be thrown out of the Euro 2016 qualifiers and Russian clubs should be banned from the Champions League and the Europa League. Russia should even be threatened with losing the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
So what tough punishment have Russia been hit with for stealing three of another country’s football teams? None. Zilch. Sweet FA. UEFA say they will wait until they get advice from the UN. But the UN resolution on Crimea (see above) shows their point of view. FIFA won’t do anything until UEFA does. A cynic might say the football authorities want to cosy up to Putin rather than move the 2018 World Cup to a democracy. FIFA general secretary Jerone Valcke gave himself away by saying “less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup”. As for UEFA the fact that the Champions League is sponsored by a Russian gas giant – Gazprom – has nothing to do with them not wanting Russian clubs banned from the Champions League. And if you believe that you believe in the tooth fairy.
All this proves is that until governments force football to obey the law FIFA – and football – will do what it wants. Its one thing getting an exemption from a law you don’t like – like the UK’s 1975 Sex Discrimination Act – it is quite another to ignore your own rules to suit one country while expecting everyone else to obey them. In my opinion the English FA – and every FA in the world – should just ignore any FIFA rule they don’t like. After all if FIFA let Russia off they need to let every one else off. But that is what dictators do – and Sepp Blatter is one – they change the rules to suit themselves. The governments of the world must order their FAs to leave FIFA – thus consigning Blatter’s arrogant two-faced dictatorship – that doesn’t even enforce its own laws – into oblivion.
*Which is how Cardiff City and Swansea City – both Welsh clubs – can play in the English League to quote one example.
I don’t usually write about the same subject twice in a row, but I must go back to the Malky Mackay affair. In an article in the Sunday Telegraph Jason Burt wrote that
“The allegations they face expose a subculture within a sport that is already dripping in arrogance. It is a distasteful subculture of bigotry and insularity. It is macho and arrogant and points to a boorish insistence that they know best and can do what they want”.
He’s hit the nail on the head. Football is like that because it can do what it wants. An example. In every other industry if I were an employer I could employ anyone who I think is qualified for the job. Nationality and gender are irrelevant. Yet in football Chelsea have to offload a player before September 1st – provided he is foreign that is – to satisfy a Premier League rule. That rule is racist. It must go. And very quickly. Also elite women have to play on artificial turf – both at the 2015 World Cup and in the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England (Liverpool and Everton’s women’s teams play on artificial turf).The Liverpool and Everton men play on grass. That is sexist. It must change. And very quickly.
My point is: if the rules of football are racist and sexist (they are) is it any wonder some people in the sport are too? In industries where the Sex Discrimination Act did apply there has been progress in gender equality (not enough but progress). Football has made very little. If the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act* had never been passed equality in the UK would be far less advanced today than it is. The law matters.
However there are other problems. The UK media has a lot to answer for. When the Sun has naked women on Page 3 – and offers a date with one as a prize in its Dream Team competition – you know it is not just football that has problems. And Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – in one of the most depressing remarks of the year – said that an active Premier League player will not come out as gay because of “media interest”. If that is true the press should be ashamed of itself.
So what should be done? Jason Burt wrote that Mackay must never coach a football club again. Quite right. But we must go further. Anyone involved in football – players, coaches, managers, journalists, TV pundits and fans – must be told that any racist, sexist, homophobic or anti semitic behaviour will mean a ban of at least five years and possibly life. It should be a clause in every player’s contract, and be written on every match ticket. Everybody would know where they stood and there would be no arguments. And NO exceptions. And if a footballer is convicted of rape or sexual assault he should be banned for life.
That might seem draconian. But if we want this sport cleaned up there is no other way. Baseball proves this. After World War One baseball had a major gambling problem which reached its nadir in 1919 with the “Black Sox” scandal where eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing that year’s World Series. To his credit baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis – that is his real name -took ruthless action. The eight players were banned for life, and baseball rule 21 (d) banning betting on ball games by players – even in games not involving their own team – was introduced. To baseball’s eternal credit when a big name was accused of betting on the sport they did not shirk their duty. Even though the big name was Pete Rose – baseball’s all time hit leader and an American icon. Rose accepted a life ban from baseball on August 24th 1989 (although shamefully he denied betting on ball games until 2004 when he finally came clean in his book). In 1991 he was also banished from baseball’s Hall of Fame**. Some people including Eduardo Perez on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight think the ban should be lifted. NO. He knew the rules. He still bet on ball games. And then lied for 15 years. He deserves no sympathy. New baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred MUST stand firm.
If we want to rid football of the cancer of racism sexism and homophobia the sport must show the same zero tolerance that baseball has on gambling. the sport must be forced to obey the law of the country. It must have a minimum five-year ban for any racist sexist or homophobic behaviour. And it MUST NOT make an exception for big name stars.
I suspect none of this will happen and football will try to sweep it under the carpet yet again. But that carpet is getting rather full of nasty affairs. And it is beginning to stink.
*These Acts were replaced in 2010 by the Equality Act.
**Rose is in a Hall of Fame however. In 2004 he was inducted into the celebrity wing of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame. Obviously WWE owner Vince McMahon was not concerned about betting on baseball games.