Tag Archives: FA

If the FA want a professional women’s League let them pay for it

There have been two main post EURO 2017 stories in English women’s football. The first is the Sampson v Aluko/Spence racism scandal (mentioned in previous post “Women’s football needs a Kerry Packer. Unfortunately it won’t get one”). The second story is the FA’s plans for the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) which are causing a lot of controversy and to my mind are unfair and against the principles which should apply to football. 

From next season (2018-19) the FA want WSL 1 to be a full time professional League of up to 14 clubs. The catch is that the clubs that make up this League will not be decided by success on field (which happens even in money mad men’s football) but by a licensing system where in the words of the FA  “Sporting performance will not be considered in the selection process”. That is a total disgrace. 

It means that the women’s teams of Premier League teams that are not currently in WSL 1 (for example Brighton, Tottenham and West Ham) could leapfrog their way into WSL 1 not by on field performance but because of financial muscle – just as Manchester City were parachuted into WSL 1 in 2014 instead of poor Doncaster Belles purely because of money. That is surely unacceptable. 

Even worse existing WSL 1 teams who earned their WSL 1 places wholly on merit but are part time will lose their place if they are unwilling or unable to go full time. Two examples are are Yeovil Town who have had to use Crowd Funding to raise the £350000 in order to bid for a WSL 1 licence for next season. But if successful what will they do the next season? And the next? and Sunderland – whose team reverted to part time status this year – who have decided to apply for the part time WSL 2. And will the other WSL 1 clubs who are not affiliated to a men’s Premier League team (Birmingham City, Bristol City and Reading) be able (or willing) to spend the money needed. £350000 is chicken feed for a Premier League team. It is not chicken feed for the likes of Yeovil. 

Another question is will all the current WSL 1 players even want to go full time professional? A 28 year old with a secure job might not want to go full time professional for a few years for lesser money than her other job pays. So this hypothetical player might choose to drop down a level to the part time WSL 2 even though she is good enough for WSL 1. That will hardly help the standard of any new League. 

The FA’s plans are ill thought out. Why change the after the season has started? Why the rush? Couldn’t they wait until 2019-20 to start? Why make the whole League full time professional anyway? No other country in Europe currently has a full time professional women’s League. Denmark, France, Germany, Holland and Sweden have all had success at elite level without a full time professional women’s League. There is no reason why England cannot. 

Another thing is that the FA want a full time professional League but don’t want to pay for it. In effect they are passing the buck. If the FA want a full time professional women’s League why don’t they pay for it? Why don’t they say “We will pay the top nine teams in this season’s WSL 1 plus the WSL 2 champions £500000 each to go full time professional”. At £500000 a club that comes to a total of £5 million. For the FA £5 million a year is peanuts. It would also save the women’s teams from the whims of their male parent club. For example Notts County folded earlier this year because the male club decided to stop funding them. If the FA had funded them that might not have happened. 

The FA’s plan is ill thought out and unfair. Have they heard of “Walk before you run?”. At this moment the women’s game is not ready for a full time professional League. If a full time professional women’s League does not exist in more progressive countries like Norway and Sweden why do the FA think it would work in sexist England? It won’t. The FA needs either to be patient and wait for the women’s game to grow naturally or put its money where its mouth is and pay for it themselves. If the FA want a full time professional women’s League they should pay for it.

Women’s football needs a Kerry Packer. Unfortunately it won’t get one 

With women’s football it sometimes seems like a case of one step forward then one step back. Two months after a fantastic EURO 2017 two of the four Semi Finalists, England and Denmark are in turmoil. Both are involved in dreadful situations and neither countries FA comes out of it with credit. 

First England. Since EURO 2017 the English FA has been involved in a racism scandal. It started with dropped striker Eni Aluko accusing manager Mark Sampson of making racist comments to her. Two independent enquiries cleared Sampson yet Aluko was offered £80000 “hush money” to cover up the allegations.

Then last month the story got worse when another player – Chelsea’s mixed race Drew Spence – accused Sampson of racism – saying he had asked her how many times she had been arrested. Another enquiry was announced but in a bizzare twist Sampson got sacked for an unrelated story – that he behaved inappropriately with young players at his former club Bristol Academy. The ridiculous thing being that the FA had the report into Sampson’s conduct at Bristol Academy two years ago but they did not read it until someone encouraged the FA to do so. Why Sampson wasn’t fully investigated either when he was appointed in 2013 or when the report into his conduct at Bristol appeared two years ago only the FA will know. 

And then last week the affair got even worse when the FA revealed that Sampson had been found guilty of racist remarks to Aluko and Spence. Aluko was totally vindicated and FA Chairman Greg Clarke and Chief Executive Martin Glenn totally humiliated. Both men squirmed through an embarrassingly inept performance in front of the All Party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee last Wednesday with Clarke claiming allegations of institutional racism at the FA were “fluff”. NOT the FA’s finest hour (to put it mildly). MPs – notably Ian Lucas and Jo Stevens – were not impressed and could you blame them? The FA came across as racist, sexist and determined to protect Sampson at all costs – not a good look. 

But the FA are not the only FA that is not having a good time with its women’s team. EURO 2017 finalists Denmark are also in turmoil. Their World Cup qualifer against Sweden on Friday was cancelled when the players boycotted the game and the second best team in Europe are in danger of being kicked out of the World Cup by FIFA. How did this happen? 

The problem in Denmark is more common in the women’s game than the racism in England – namely pay. The Danish FA and the players have been negotiating since November but with no success. A EURO 2017 Final rematch with Holland last month was cancelled but a temporary agreement allowed their first World Cup qualifer in Hungary to be played (and won 6-1). But negotiations broke down yet again and the game against Sweden was cancelled. Another temporary agreement has allowed tomorrow’s qualifer in Croatia to go ahead but Denmark are at the mercy of UEFA and FIFA. Sweden’s players (to their credit) want the game to be rearranged but shamefully the Swedish FA want to take the forfeit victory.

Denmark is not the first case of a women’s national football team being in dispute with its FA over pay and/or conditions. Australia, the US. Argentina, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are other countries where this has happened. But none of them reached the stage of the team being in danger of being thrown out of the World Cup. But it is clear that women footballers more and more are getting fed up with low or non existent pay and poor or non existent facilities. The problem for the women players is that there is nowhere for them to go but competitions ran by UEFA and FIFA who have a monopoly on football. There is no alternative for them than to try and pressure sexist, intransigent FAs to change. 

Women’s football in 2017 increasingly reminds me of professional cricket in 1977. Again the players were in dispute with the authorities over pay and conditions. For example Dennis Lillee then the best fast bowler in the world earned more money from his window cleaning business than from playing cricket despite the Australian Cricket Board making hundreds of thousands of dollars in gate receipts from the team’s matches. 

The difference here is that the Australian (and world) cricketers had somewhere else to go. A rich entrapenuer Kerry Packer had fallen out with the Australian Cricket Board for totally different reasons (he wanted exclusive Test rights for his TV station Channel 9 which the board wouldn’t grant). He had the idea to stage his own Test matches and the money to lure discontented cricketers to play in his games. To cut a very long story short (I’ll be writing about the Packer Affair soon) the Australian Cricket Board without the country’s best players ended up drowning in red ink and had to capitulate both to Packer – giving him the TV rights he wanted – and to the Australian players – giving them the higher pay they wanted. Other cricket countries learning the lesson had to increase the pay of their players to protect against another Packer.

Women’s football could really do with its own Kerry Packer to give the players another option and drive pay up. The difference here is that there isn’t a Packer lurking in the background nor will they ever be. Because of ingrained sexism it is highly unlikely that an entrapenuer will be unhappy that his TV station is not covering women’s football and thus be willing to combine with the discontented female players to set up an alternative tournament like Packer did in cricket (nor tolerate the start up losses that Packer did because he knew he would – and did – make money long term). 

The fact is as Jean Williams has pointed out in her books “A Game For Rough Girls” and “A Beautiful Game” is that FIFA, UEFA and most national FAs do not care about women’s football and only run it to maintain their monopoly over the game. They will pay the women as little as they can get away with – just like the Australian Cricket Board in the 1970s. 

The courage of Eni Aluko, Pernille Harder and the rest of the Danish women’s team is admirable and change is happening and will continue to happen. But to speed it up women’s football really needs its own Kerry Packer to break the FIFA monopoly pay women players what they are worth and force the FAs to do likewise to get the players back. But since the media, TV and big business are as sexist towards women’s football as the football establishment women’s football won’t get its Kerry Packer. Which means that the progress towards fair treatment of female footballers will be a lot slower than it should be…

Girls are still being banned from sport – because they are girls 

I’ve mentioned in past posts the 1978 Theresa Bennett case in the UK – where a 12 year old girl wanted to play for a boy’s football team and the Football Association (FA) in its infinite (lack of) wisdom banned her from doing so. Theresa Bennett went to court for her right to play football and initially won. The FA would not give up, appealed the verdict and won because the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 had a clause saying banning girls from competing with or against boys in sports where the average woman is at a disadvantage to the average man (this is still in UK law – in the 2010 Equality Act – today). Then Master of the Rolls Lord Denning actually said this in his judgement : 

Women have many qualities superior to those of men, but they have not got the strength or stamina to run, to kick or tackle, and so forth.

Oh dear, what would he have made of Euro 2017 if he had lived to see it? It was an absolutely terrible judgement which the current standard of women’s football has rendered ridiculous. But that was in 1978. A 2017 Theresa Bennett would be able to play in her boy’s team as the FA allow mixed football until the age of 18 (there should not be any restriction except on grounds of ability but that is a different issue). 

You would think that in 2017 no girl would be banned from a sporting event simply because she was a girl. And guess what? You would be wrong. I have just discovered a case that occurred last month where a girl had to go to court for her right to play in a male team – and she lost. In 2017. To make matters worse as there is no girls team it meant the girl in question could not play in the event at all. 

The sport is cricket and the event is the Maccabiah – colloquially known as the Jewish Olympics as it brings together Jewish athletes from all round the world. 14 year old girl Naomi Eytan was picked for the Israeli junior team at the Maccabiah – but the organisers of the event refused to let her play. Like Theresa Bennett 39 years earlier she had to go to court for her right to play and like Theresa Bennett 39 years ago she lost. A Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Eytan was ineligible for the Israeli team because of her gender. Therefore – and despite being selected for the team on merit – she was banned from the youth team and even worse she was unable to take part in the Maccabiah at all as there is no female cricket competition at the Maccabiah. 

Even more extraordinary the same arguments that stymied Theresa Bennett in 1978 were still being used 39 years later. The Maccabiah citied a passage in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Gender Recognition Policy that basically said that because of significant advantages in size, strength and power enjoyed (on average) by males over females from puberty onwards it is necessary to have separate competition categories for males and females in order to preserve the safety, fairness and integrity of the sport”. 

But the hole in this argument in regard to Eytan is – as I mentioned above – the Maccabiah did not provide a separate competition for girls and women. Surely in that case a girl like Eytan should have the right to try out and be selected for a boy’s team. The Maccabiah also used safety as an argument saying that people can be hit in the head in cricket therefore it would not be safe for Eytan to play. I always find it fascinating that the powers that be in sport so often have more concern for the safety of girls/women than boys/men. Boys and men can be hit in the head too. If the sport is too dangerous for girls and women it is too dangerous for boys and men. 

And here is the clincher. Israeli Cricket Association chairman Steve Leigh said that Eytan had been selected on merit and could stand up to it. “There was absolutely no worry on our part regarding Naomi’s safety – not in the slightest”. Surely that should have swayed the court. There is no sane team that would select someone who was not up to it. Teams want to win. Teams will not select players that are not up to the job as that would hinder their chances of winning. Plus the Maccabiah does not get much publicity outside Israel so there was no danger of Eytan’s selection being a publicity stunt. There was no reason to ban her and it is incredible that 39 years after the Theresa Bennett case cases like this can still happen. And the Maccabiah are hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the world. 

The photograph above shows how ridiculous the Maccabiah banning Eytan is. The little girl in the number 10 shirt is Jackie Groenen – one of the stars of Holland’s recent victory in the women’s Euro 2017 tournament. At the time that this was taken Groenen was twelve years old. The boys she was playing with and against were 14-15 years old. As can be seen from the photograph they were far bigger than Groenen but the Dutch allowed her to play. In fact according to her father – who took this photograph – she “embarrassed” the boys. The boys in the opposition team look absolutely terrified of her. Despite the age and size disadvantage Groenen faced no one seemed concerned about her safety despite the fact that there is physical contact in football (unlike cricket). Nor did the fact that the average man has a strength advantage over the average woman matter as it is clear that Groenen – as anyone who saw her at Euro 2017 knows – is anything but average when it comes to football. It was clear that she was in the team on merit and therefore deserved to be so. The Dutch – unlike the dinosaurs who run the Maccabiah – realised that.

Surely the first rule of sport is that it is a meritocracy – if you are good enough you should be in the team. Ten years ago with Jackie Groenen (who is now 22) the Dutch realised that. Today even the FA realise that. The organisers of the Maccabiah did not realise that. The ban on Naomi Eytan playing in the youth cricket tournament was a disgrace. To ban someone from playing the sport she loves because she is a girl is shameful. You would think that in 2017 this would not happen. But you would be wrong.  The organisers of the Maccabiah should be ashamed of themselves. 

How to have a winter break without ruining Christmas 

We are in the middle of the most choatic period in the Premier League season the festive fixtures. All Premier League teams will have played three games between Boxing Day and January 4 2017. This is a soft schedule compared to 39 years ago – in the 1977-78 season all English clubs played four games between Boxing Day and January 2 (on Boxing Day, December 27th, New Year’s Eve and January 2). Yet people are still demanding a winter break in English football – either foreign managers who think that if the rest of Europe have a winter break so should Britain – typical of the arrogant European attitude which has led to Brexit – or the FA who seem to think it will help the England national team (conveniently forgetting that the vast majority of England fans care more about their clubs than the national team and don’t want to suffer the garbage Checkatrade Trophy or lose their Christmas entertainment on the off chance it can help a bad team to beat Iceland in a major tournament). 

As I wrote before those who want a Christmas shut down forget that both other sport in Britain (Rugby, Darts and Horse Racing to name but three) and sport in other English speaking countries (the NBA, NFL and NHL in the US, cricket in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) play on in the festive season). And as the EU referendum surely confirmed we in the UK have more in common with our English speaking friends than Europe even if the UK “Remoaners” don’t accept this. 

But even if we did have a winter break why should it mean the end of the Christmas fixtures? Just because most of Europe has a winter break at Christmas doesn’t mean to say we have to. In my opinion there is another option for a winter break that would also preserve the Christmas fixtures. 

That is not the period after the New Year (ie January). Traditionally the first Saturday in January is the day of the third round of the FA Cup and moving it out of January would devalue the competition. The FA should know this as they already moved the FA Cup third round from January to December – in the 1999-2000 season. It was a total disaster and the third round was immediately restored to its traditional date in the calendar. The FA would be incredibly stupid even by their standards if they mucked about with the scheduling of their crown jewel again. 

I’m surprised that nobody has thought of having a winter break in the Saturdays immediately preceding Christmas. For one thing in the old days before season tickets became popular that was generally the time of the season that had the lowest gates as fans went Christmas shopping with their families. If the Saturdays immediately before Christmas were football free fans could do their Christmas shopping without missing their team play. 

Here is how it would work using this year’s dates. The last round of Premier League games before the break would have been on the week of November 29-30. The next four Saturdays (December 3,10,17 and 24) would be the break. The season would resume on Boxing Day and the Christmas programme would start. The only games on would be the European games on December 7-9 but other countries (ie Eastern European ones) already play European games during winter breaks so if they can do it…

For this to work out the football authorities would have to sacrifice the League Cup which as I’ve wrote before is a useless tournament that should never have been invented and reached the end of its limited usefulness in the mid 1990s when Manchester United started fielding reserve teams in the competition. If you got rid of the League Cup itfrees up five midweeks which could be filled with the Premier League games that are currently played in December. For example this season the Premier League games that were played on December 3, 10, 13/14 and 17 could have been moved to the midweeks of September 20-21, October 25-26, November 29-30 and January 24-25. You have your winter break. 

Personally I don’t want a winter break but that is because everybody that wants it wants to sacrifice the Christmas programme which would be stupid as it draws the highest attendances and is clearly popular with the public.

It is interesting to note that there are people in Spain who would like La Liga to play on Boxing Day. Whether or not that happens I don’t know. But if Spain want to play in the festive season why should we stop? Especially as – as I have shown – there is a way to have a winter break and to preserve the tradition of both the Christmas programme and the FA Cup….

Don’t play games behind closed doors. Price out the thugs.

West Ham United’s move to the London Stadium (the stadium that hosted the ceremonies and the athletics at the 2012 Olympics) has not exactly started well. Until they won successive home games this week against Sunderland and Chelsea the club had struggled to make the stadium feel like home. Now they are not the first club nor will they be last to struggle at a new home – Southampton when they moved to St Mary’s in 2001 being a classic example – but there is something more sinister here. 

In most of West Ham’s home games since the move to the London Stadium there has been crowd trouble – even against the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and Middlesborough which are not usually fixtures that are associated with crowd trouble. So when West Ham were drawn against London rivals Chelsea in the EFL (League) Cup fourth round it was feared that there would be crowd trouble. The fears were justified. 

Seats, coins and bottles were thrown during ugly clashes between West Ham and Chelsea fans on Wednesday. One Chelsea fan had blood pouring from his head after allegedly getting hit by a coin while eight year old children were among those who were struck. There was also a leaflet distributed before the game about Chelsea player John Terry which encouraged homophobic chants. All in all it was as if we had hurtled back 40 years in time to the 1970s when this nonsense was common. 

To no one’s surprise an investigation has been launched (it’s what we Brits do best!). Also typically SIX different organisations – West Ham, Chelsea, the Football League (FL), the Football Association (FA), the Metropolitan Police and the stadium operators -are joining in this enquiry. And also typically two Conservative MPs – Mark Field and Damian Collins – have chipped in saying that if the bad behaviour continues West Ham should be made to play home games behind closed doors if bad behaviour continues. But they are wrong. 

First of all why close the ground when it is clear that the pond life that is causing this nonsense is a tiny minority of West Ham fans? Then factor in the fact that the fans of whatever team West Ham might be playing in any future behind closed door games are innocent. They haven’t taken part in any trouble why should they be punished? Remember UEFA did that to innocent Manchester City fans in the 2014-15 Champions League while punishing CSKA Moscow for racist behaviour. Punishing innocent fans is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is unnecessary. 

I’ve got two solutions. One uncontroversial one  controversial. Try punishing the guilty not the innocent. There is CCTV at the London Stadium as there is at other grounds. The authorities should identify the cretins who misbehaved on Wednesday and ban them from every ground in the UK for life. No if not buts no second chances. If the law does not allow that the Government should change it. If Field and Collins want to do something useful they can pressurise the Government to make this change if the law does not allow life bans.

My second plan won’t be popular. Because the London Stadium has a capacity of 60,010 far more than their old ground Upton Park (35,016) West Ham cut their ticket prices. Now that makes sense – except I reckon it is the cutting of prices that has caused the hooliganism. Popular opinion thinks that the behaviour of fans has improved since the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s. But I don’t. I suspect that the hooligans were always there -it is just that the move to all seater stadiums and the rise in prices that caused priced the hooligans out of the game and now that prices at West Ham have gone down the yobs have returned. To back me up I don’t recall trouble inside Upton Park last season (the Manchester United team bus was pelted with bottles and coins at West Ham’s last ever game at Upton Park but that was outside the ground). Maybe it is a coincidence that trouble at West Ham has gone up when prices have gone down but it is an awfully big coincidence.

That doesn’t mean prices should go up for everybody. We know it is young men who mainly cause trouble at football matches. So keep cheap admission prices for children, families and pensioners. But prices for adults going on their own and for groups of young men should go up. It would be unfair and in the ideal world should not need to happen. But until men learn to behave themselves at football that is a price they will have to pay. Sure West Ham might not fill their stadium if they do that. But if they don’t and trouble continues at the London Stadium the football authorities might – despite my opinion – force West Ham to play in front of no fans at all. And that will be far far worse for them….
  

Why Allardyce leaving could be a blessing in disguise

Just when you think the England men’s national football team could not sink any lower after June’s humiliating Euro 2016 defeat by Iceland they do. It has to be said in fairness that this time it is not the players that are to blame it is the now ex manager Sam Allardyce. Just sixty seven days – and one game – after being appointed on Tuesday Allardyce left his England post by “mutual consent”. The FA had no other option.

Allardyce’s reign came to an end as a result of a “sting” by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. Allardyce met with two bogus businessmen who offered him £400,000 for being “a keynote speaker”. He also made plenty of controversial remarks criticising predecessor Roy Hodgson saying he’d send them (the England players) off to sleep. He criticised his own players for being physiologically weak, and his own employers the FA for wasting £870 million on redeveloping Wembley. In both those cases a lot of fans would probably agree with him but it’s not a very good thing to criticise your players and your bosses.

If that is all he said he might – might – have survived. But something else he said sealed his fate. He said that there are ways around the FA’s ban on third party ownership – that is the rule brought in by the FA in 2008 where individuals have a stake in the ownership of a player rather than him being owned wholly by his club. Whether you think the rule is a good idea or not is irrelevant. No one in any industry would survive being caught giving people advice on how to get around the rules of their own employers. Once that remark appeared in the Telegraph it was all over for Allardyce. 

Predictably this week’s events have been called a disaster for English football. It is certainly embarrassing. TV pundit Rio Ferdinand said the affair made English football look ludicrous. And yet long term this could be a blessing in disguise for English football as the FA made a dreadful mistake appointing Allardyce in the first place and by making a fool of himself in the press he has given the FA a chance to redeem themselves and get rid of him before his appointment could cause much damage.

An article in yesterday’s Sun by Neil Ashton showed why Allardyce was unqualified for the job. The article said even his own wife did not want Allardyce to take the job as she knew what he was like when he started guzzling pints of lager. Apparently he was famous for his boozing sessions that lasted until 3 am. Earlier this month he apparently had a monumental night out with his coaching staff Sammy Lee and Craig Shakespeare. The next day he turned up for work and a number of FA staff said his breath reeked of alcohol. How on earth is that guy fit to manage a school team never mind his national team? 

But although it was the UK press that brought Allardyce down they cannot be exempt from criticism either. They must have known about his boozing. Also the Ashton article yesterday mentioned Allardyce’s “skewed social views” and that “his comments about females have bordered on sexism”. So why did the press not expose them? They were quick enough – quite rightly – to slaughter Malky MacKay and José Mourinho for sexist behaviour but somehow they didn’t expose Allardyce’s remarks. Even Ashton admitted that they should have exposed him “Shame on us, if the truth be told”. Shows that football thinks that crimes against itself – ie corruption – are more serious than crimes against society – ie sexism (Allardyce was brought down during an ongoing Telegraph investigation into corruption – no UK paper has investigated into sexism in football). It is highly likely that Allardyce would have been brought down by some scandal anyway and had it come say a month before the World Cup in 2018 it would been a disaster. 

But it’s not just Allardyce that is a problem – its English football managers generally. Chelsea fan David Baddiel said in an article about Mourinho in the Radio Times in 2014 that today’s English managers – Allardyce, Steve Bruce, Alan Curbishley, Alan Pradew, Harry Redknapp – could have managed in 1954. That is not a compliment. It is very possible that there are hidden sexist views among those men – in fact Bruce questioned the rape conviction of Ched Evans – how would he know he wasn’t in court for his trial.

It is clear that most British managers are unfit for purpose – it is interesting that most of the Telegraph’s corruption allegations so far have been against British managers and assistant managers. If I were the FA I would not even consider appointing an English manager. There is a reason why the elite Premier League clubs avoid English managers. It is because they are stuck in the 1950s and they represent a horrible macho culture that really should have died long ago. The Allardyce scandal has given the FA a chance to atone for its mistake in appointing him and instead appoint a progressive foreign manager. It is interesting that according to the book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (page 370) that Fabio Capello was the most successful England manager (in terms of win percentage) of all time and Sven Goran Eriksson was fourth both way ahead of Steve McLaren who was manager between the two foreigners (and therefore had the same players to choose from). England’s cricket and rugby teams have been improved by foreign coaches after disastrous 2015 World Cup campaigns under Englishmen. If the FA take heed of this and appoint a progressive foreign manager the Allardyce shambles could be a blessing in disguise.

Political Games

A blog post written by Dennis Freedman in “The Quint” caught my eye. In the post he criticised the governing body of world cricket the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its inconsistent decision making in regard to weak and strong countries. He rightly condemns them for suspending Nepal – a small cricket country –  for government interference with its cricket board but not punishing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and (especially) South Africa – all big cricket countries –  for exactly the same offence. Freedman is quite right to attack the ICC for its inconsistency on this issue but he misses out on a fundamental point. Not only is  the punishment wrong but so is the ICC’s insistence that governments keep out of the affairs of cricket boards. To be fair cricket is not the only sport that does this – FIFA among others do too – but they are all wrong. And here is why.

Governments govern a county. Like it or not sport is part of a country. It is part of society. It cannot – or should not – be detached from society. If a government interferes in other parts of society – which it does – surely it should interfere in sport too?

Now in an ideal world a government would not have to interfere in sport because governing bodies would be competent and reflect their society. But they are not. In the case of cricket the reason governments in Nepal, Pakistan and India (and in India’s case the Supreme Court) interfere in the affairs of their cricket boards is that they are corrupt. In India for example the Supreme Court ordered Narayanswami Srinivasan to step down as Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) while they investigated a spot fixing scandal. Incredibly that did not stop him becoming ICC chairman. He was eventually forced out of his ICC role too and his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Chennai Super Kings was suspended for two years after the Supreme Court found out that his son in law was guilty of placing bets on the 2013 IPL. The BCCI was corrupt but if the Supreme Court had not investigated no one would be the wiser.

Same with FIFA. I’ve gone over FIFA’s corruption problems before but the corruption would not have been exposed if the FBI in America and the Swiss authorities had not investigated it. Can corrupt bodies police themselves? No. Someone has to do it for them. That means government agencies and courts.

Now it is true to say that sport in the UK, US, Australia and Europe (well Western Europe anyway) does not have as much of a corruption problem. The problem here is racism, sexism and homophobia (as this week’s sexism scandal in UK cycling and the resignation of head coach Shane Sutton shows). While that it is true that these problems are in society as well as sport at least society outside sport is trying to do something about it. For example last year a report by Lord Mervyn Davies recommended a target of 33% women on boards of UK FTSE 100 companies by 2020. Has anybody suggested that 33% of employees or board members in UK football, cricket or rugby clubs be female? No. What a surprise. They should. Meanwhile in 2014 then head of BBC television Danny Cohen announced a ban on all male panels on BBC television programmes. But surprise surprise that did not include sports programmes like “Match Of The Day” which still has the same old male, stale panel (even ESPN baseball has Jessica Mendoza). Why were all male sports panels not banned?

The other reason governments need to interfere in sport is accountability. Human beings being what we are we cannot control ourselves. If we are allowed to do whatever we like we will do. FIFA became arrogant and corrupt because it was accountable to no one. Football, cricket and cycling are full of sexism and racism because they are accountable to no one. The UK MPs expenses scandal of 2009 showed that politicians can’t behave themselves and that Parliament needed an independent regulator. The gas, electricity and TV industries in the UK are regulated independently to make sure they are fairly run and prices are kept down (In theory. The energy regulator is awful but that is a different issue). Former Lib Dem politician founder of the homeless charity Shelter and former England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) member Des Wilson once wrote “Is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be almost unique in its ability to be so?”

And he is right. Sport is a part of society must play by the rules of society and must be regulated by society. The way the ICC has treated Nepal is a disgrace. It should stop. And sport should submit to government regulation. The party is over.

On the progress of women’s football in England

The sixth season of England’s Women’s Super League (WSL) starts tonight. With the season just starting I thought I’d write my views on the progress of the League and what might happen this season.

First of all the season should not be starting now. Since the WSL started in 2011 it has been a summer League. The FA in its wisdom or lack thereof do this to avoid clashing with men’s football especially the behemoth that is the Premier League. But as anybody reading this will probably know the Premier League is still going on – and will do until May 15th. The Premier League then resumes again in August. Plus in June/July there is Euro 2016 in France. So that is no justification for a summer season as men’s football goes on for most of the year. And it is out of touch with all the other countries in Europe. All the other countries have their women’s season running at the same time as the men’s (August to May in France and Germany for example and summer in Sweden and Norway). Frankly if I were running UEFA or FIFA I would insist the women’s season runs at the same time as the men’s in each country and any country that does not should be banned from the World Cup, the Champions League and the Euros. Why do we Brits insist on being different?

What makes the summer season even more ludicrous is that only the two divisions of the WSL play in the summer. All the rest of the women’s teams play in the winter. Also another ludicrous aspect of the calendar is the FA Cup Final which when the elite women played from August to May was the climax of the season is now in the middle of the season in August. Also women’s football has the Continental Cup – a League Cup equivalent and just as useless. Another example of FA incompetence is that the WSL season starts on the same night as the Champions League Quarter Finals. Genius!

This is not the only example of the FA running the WSL unfairly. When it started the eight teams were selected not decided by where they had finished in the Premier League (which was the elite competition pre WSL). The League also had no relegation for its first three years. Then in 2013 a shocking decision was made. A second teir WSL 2 was established and the existing eight teams in what became WSL 1 were forced to reapply to keep their status. One game into the 2013 season Doncaster Belles were told that they would be in WSL 2 for 2014 regardless of where they finished in WSL 1 in 2013. They would be replaced by Manchester City…who finished fourth in the Premier League. Good logic FA. It was in two cases a blatant case of favouring elite male Premier League clubs. First City should not have been promoted. Secondly Liverpool should have been relegated as they were bottom in 2013 and they can’t even find a grass pitch in Liverpool to play on. Surely the first rule of football is to have a decent pitch. The turf pitch in Widnes Liverpool (and Everton) play on is awful and it might be the reason Liverpool have lost so many players in the off season.

I should state it is not all doom and gloom. The WSL has made progress since 2011 but that is due to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City investing in their women’s teams rather than anything the FA has done. When the WSL started in 2011 Arsenal were as dominant in UK women’s football as Lyon are in France. The Gunners had won the Premier League seven years in a row and continued their domination in the first two seasons of the WSL.

But then things changed. Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea began investing in their women’s teams and reaped their rewards. Liverpool won the WSL in 2013 and 2014, Chelsea did the League and Cup double last year and Manchester City won the 2014 Continental Cup and qualified for the Champions League next season.

So what could happen this year? While I hate to compare women’s football to men’s football the women’s and men’s game have gone in inverse directions. The big story in the male game this season has of course been the remarkable Premier League title challenge of Leicester City. But the WSL has had its equivalents of Leicester in the past. In 2013 and 2014 Bristol Academy and Birmingham City had unlikely title challenges that in both cases only failed on the last day of the season. But now the WSL resembles what the Premier League was before this season. It is likely to be a race between Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal with Liverpool an outside bet. Apart from the sexist anomaly of Manchester United* the same as what we expected in the Premier League this season!

If I were to predict a winner it would be Manchester City. Post the World Cup break they were the best team in the WSL last year but a thrown away 2-0 lead at Notts County and their poor form pre World Cup cost them. They have an impressive spine of Karen Bardsley, England captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and the brilliant Toni Duggan who at one stage seemed to score a great goal every week. To this can be added newly signed Swedish star Kosovare Aslani. If they avoid injuries they have a great chance.

Not that Chelsea – unlike their men – will surrender their title easily. They have star players Emi Aluko, Fran Kirby and reigning PFA player of the year Ji So-yun. Like City they have strengthened their squad with the signing of Gemma Davison and the experienced Karen Carney.  They will go close again.

Although Arsenal are not the dominant force of old they are probably third favourites. They have experience – Kelly Smith, Emma Byrne, Casey Stoney and new signing Fara Williams as well as young talent like Young Player of the Year Leah Williamson, Jordan Nobbs and Danielle Carter. If anyone can challenge Chelsea and City it is this team especially if Nigeria star Asiant Oshoala has adapted to the WSL after an injury hit first season at Liverpool.

Talking of which… it is anybody’s guess what Liverpool will do this season. The two time Champions crashed to seventh out of eight last season and as a result changes have been made with a new manager in Scott Rogers and nine players leaving and nine players arriving. All these changes will probably mean a poor start as a 0-2 FA Cup defeat to Manchester City suggests. But I still suspect they will improve on last season.

If the WSL is to have a “Leicester” this year it could be Notts County. They got to both Cup Finals last year but lost to Chelsea (FA Cup) and Arsenal (Continental Cup). They have in my opinion the League’s best goalkeeper Carly Telford, the unlucky Laura Bassett and strikers Ellen White and Jess Clarke. And getting experienced Rachael Yankey on loan could be a coup. The “Lady Pies” should not finish lower than fourth and could break into the top three.

Sunderland were the first club promoted to WSL on merit and led by prodigy Beth Mead never looked like being relegated and at one stage topped the table. They will hope Mead like Harry Kane is no one season wonder. If she is not (and I don’t think she will be) they will be safe. This season there are two promoted clubs. After the injustice of 2014 Doncaster Belles are back in WSL 1.  With the experienced of Sue Smith and Natasha Dowie they should be good enough to survive especially if WSL 2 top scorer Courtney Sweetman-Kirk can adapt to WSL 1 as well as Mead did. The second promoted side Reading could find it harder with a young team lacking in stars after they lost Fran Kirby to Chelsea after last year’s World Cup. Their target will be eighth place avoiding the one relegation place.

Which they could do. Birmingham City – who nearly won the League in 2014 – could be in serious trouble this time. They scored just seven League goals last season and three of those were penalties. And they have lost their best player Karen Carney to Chelsea. All the other teams seem to have more goal scoring threat and it is a good bet that the city of Birmingham will lose its WSL 1 team as well as it’s Premier League team (Aston Villa who are certainties to go down).

One thing is certain. The WSL will be competitive again this year. The last three seasons have seen the title decided only on the last day and there is no reason to expect anything different. If I had to predict I’d say Manchester City but my hope is that the League continues to grow. If it does it will be despite the FA not because of them.

*Who STILL don’t have a women’s team.

Put the League Cup out of its misery

People in English football are getting concerned about the diminished status of the FA Cup. This was shown last Sunday when Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini fielded a very weakened team in the fifth round – against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Not surprisingly his team of youngsters got hammered 5-1 much to the disappointed of the BBC TV audience. Pellegrini picked this team because he wanted to prioritise the Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday and the League Cup Final against Liverpool tomorrow. People have suggested scrapping replays, offering the winner of the Cup a place in the Champions League (whether or not UEFA would allow that is highly debatable) or “rigging” the draw so that if a lower division club drew a Premier League team it would automatically have home advantage). But there is a simple solution staring every one in the face – scrap the League Cup.

The League Cup has existed for 55 years which is a long time for a bad idea to last even by the standards of UK sport. The competition was called “Hardaker’s folly” after the man who proposed it Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker. Hardaker was anti Europe* –  in 1955 he browbeat English Champions Chelsea into snubbing the first European Cup – and saw the new competition as an alternative to European Football. But the Times Newspaper (May 30th 1960) called the League Cup “useless”.  At the start the League Cup was not popular. Plenty of First Division clubs refused to enter and in its first season the Cup’s average attendance was 10,556 barely more than the average third division attendance.

The League Cup might have died a death but two events saved it. In 1967 the League Cup Final was moved to Wembley and UEFA inexplicably offered the winners a place in the UEFA Cup. Only then did all 92 Football League clubs enter the competition but it was never as highly regarded as the FA Cup or European competitions. Examples : No third division club has ever even reached the FA Cup Final. Two third division clubs have won the League Cup (QPR 1967, Swindon 1969) and two Fourth tier clubs have reached the Final (Rochdale 1962, Bradford as recently as 2013). No fourth tier team has even reached the FA Cup Semi Finals. In 1974-75 not one top division club reached even the Semi Finals. Admittedly (see earlier post) 1974-75 was a bit of a “silly season” and two of the Semi Finalists were Manchester United and Aston Villa who are usually top division clubs while another of the quartet Norwich City are a current Premier League club. Only fourth division Chester were real minnows. But still it doesn’t say much for the competition that there was a season where no top division club got to the Semi Finals.

The ridiculous thing about the Football League Cup is that the Premier League clubs are not members of the Football League so they really should not be in it. The big clubs have been fielding reserve teams since at least 1994 where Manchester United fielded young unkowns like Beckham, Neville, Butt and Scholes at Port Vale. Port Vale fans were so angry they wrote to the local paper saying that United should refund fan’s admission money and MP Joan Walley even got involved! United had the last laugh – they won the game 2-1 and the four players mentioned became superstars – but it showed how little the competition was regarded.

Getting rid of the League Cup would have the advantage of freeing up five midweeks. The three rounds of midweek games played in January, February and March could be moved to September, October and November. That would free up five midweeks for FA Cup Replays, rest or even to allow England manager Roy Hodgson to hold a couple of midweek training camps. Incidentally if UEFA staged the last sixteen of the Champions League over two weeks instead of four that would free up another couple of weeks. Hopefully if UEFA get a new President he has the sense to do it.

I suspect if the League Cup did not exist it would not be invented now. Of all the countries in Europe outside the UK only France has a League Cup. Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Holland somehow survive without one. Besides the Football League should go too. Most sports in the UK only have one governing body. Football has the FA, the Football League and the Premier League who spend as much of their time arguing with each other as running football. A single governing body for football would make sense but unfortunately too many nonentities would lose their jobs which makes it a non runner. After all it’s not just in FIFA that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

The common sense thing to do to cut down fixture congestion is to put the League Cup out of its misery. For most of its history the big clubs have not taken it seriously. To be honest – like the not dissimilar Benson and Hedges Cup in cricket which was one competition too many – once it is gone it will soon be forgotten. To quote Peter Cook who played a deranged army big-wig “The time has come Perkins for a useless sacrifice”. To cut down fixture congestion and help the FA Cup it is time to sacrifice the League Cup. Let’s put it out of its misery.

*A joke of mine is that Hardaker would be kicked out of UKIP for being too anti European!

Mouriniho is sexist. But that is not the only issue

In how many industries can you be punished for obeying the rules of your job? Not many I suspect. But there is one. And surprise surprise its football as Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro has learned.

The background to this shameful affair is this. On the 8th of August near the end of Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City their star player Eden Hazard went down. The referee Michael Oliver asked Chelsea’s medical staff onto the pitch to treat Hazard which Carneiro and fellow medic Jon Fearn duly did. Turned out that Hazard wasn’t injured but that is irrelevant. They were told to go on to the pitch and they did so. No problem surely?

To a sane human being no. But to Chelsea manager Jose Mouriniho there was. As Chelsea had had goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois sent off earlier in the game the fact that Hazard had to go off for treatment left Chelsea temporarily down to nine men. Reluctant to blame himself or his players for their failure to win a game they were expected to, Mouriniho instead attacked Carneiro and Fearn for being “naive” and “not knowing about football”. And he promptly demoted them saying they would not be on the bench for Chelsea’s future games. They have not been on the bench since and Carneiro has left Chelsea this week. (The affair is in the hands of her lawyers and she may make a claim for constructive dismissal*).

With football’s appalling record on gender equality it is hardly surprising that Mouriniho’s remarks about Carneiro have caused a stink – especially as that has been used as a stick to beat women in football with since time immormorial. As Sierra Williams wrote recently in the London School of Economics Review of Books: “If I am in the pub with my boyfriend and his friends and express an opinion about football it is disregarded immediately.” (That is despite the fact that the likes of Philipa Booth, Carrie Dunn and Amy Lawrence write about football better than the vast majority of men).

And if that wasn’t bad enough a fan has claimed that Mouriniho called Carneiro a ” filha da puta” – Portuguese for “daughter of a whore”. Mouriniho claims he called her “filho da puta” – “son of a bitch” (not much of an improvement to be honest). The FA are investigating which at the speed that organisation works probably means Christmas will have come and gone by the time we find out their verdict. He faces at least a five game ban if found guilty.

The sexism is bad enough. But Mouriniho’s behaviour is disgraceful for another reason. Carneiro and Fearn have been demoted – and in Carneiro’s case forced out – for obeying the rules of their job. For the fact is that once Oliver asked them on to the field to treat Hazard they would have been breaking their medical oath – called the Hippocratic oath – had they not attended to Hazard. What Mouriniho thought was utterly irrelevant. In effect Mouriniho was wanting them to disobey the rules of their own profession just to help Chelsea.

And here is the rub of this messy affair. Mouriniho is not alone. He is typical of an arrogant industry puffed full of its own importance. An industry that thinks the rules of the medical profession should not apply to it. Or indeed the law of this or any other country. A world governing body – the ghastly FIFA – that actually persuaded Brazil and South Africa to change their laws to accommodate the demands of FIFA’s sponsors. An industry that got a clause in the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act effectively banning mixed football (one MP called the clause – which applied to sport – a “football clause”) and an FA that went to court against a 12 year old girl to enforce it. Football is so arrogant I suspect most managers in the Premier League would have behaved towards their medical staff the way Mouriniho did.

So what should happen? Mouriniho should be banned from football for life – regardless of whether or not he made the sexist remarks to Carneiro. He put his medical staff in an impossible position where they had to disobey either Chelsea or their Hippocratic oath. It is quite possible that had Carneiro and Fearn not treated Hazard that day they would have been in trouble with the General Medical Council (GMC) for disobeying their oath. They were put in a Catch 22 that must never happen again.

To solve the problem football clubs should be banned from employing doctors. Instead the GMC should allocate medical staff to each club and the club would have no say in the matter. There are two advantages to this. The doctors would know who they had to obey and they would be accountable to the GMC and not the club. In the Carneiro/Fearn case Mouriniho and Chelsea could not have demoted them as they would not be their employers. Secondly it might mean more women in football. The vast majority of physiotherapy students in the UK are women but they are so rare in football that Carneiro running on to the pitch was a novelty because there are so few women in football. If a body outside the sexist world of football was choosing the medical staff at football clubs it is at least possible that there would be more women doctors/physios in football. And it would mean the abuse Eva Carneiro has suffered –  from her own club’s manager as well as from opposition fans – would not be for nothing if more women followed in her footsteps.

Finally one thing I don’t understand is the attitude of Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea unsurprisingly have had a lot of bad press over this affair. Why did he not give Mouriniho orders to apologize to Carneiro? Even better why did he not sack Mouriniho and reinstate Carneiro to the Chelsea bench? Mouriniho might think he is god’s gift to football but he is not the only good manager out there. In fact Chelsea and Real Madrid – both of whom Mouriniho managed – won the Champions League under other managers. He is not irreplaceable. And if I was Chelsea’s owner I would not want my club dragged through the sewer and made utterly toxic by the antics of an egomaniac. After all don’t they say that “No man is bigger than the club”?.

*”Constructive dismissal” means “action by an employer which leaves an employee no alternative but to resign”. Carneiro would need to convince a court that by demoting her Mouriniho was forcing her out.