By Tony Attwood
Towards the end of 2014 Untold ran a series of articles under the general heading of “Football Betrayed” in which I tried to put forward the notion that there are a lot of at best unexplained, and at worst down right corrupt practices in football, which football journalists simply fail to address.
In the endless rush to judge an entire season based on the last ten minutes they ignore key factors and serious issues. The grotesque above-government organisations like Fifa and the FA are rarely if ever called to account, and where outright law breaking is found (as with Barcelona) the matter is shunted away as a minor technical matter, and prominence is given to sweet talking press releases from the club.
The rigour that is seen in other areas of journalism in the serious press – such as the way the Telegraph exposed the MP’s expenses scam in Britain and the Guardian stood up against the rest and covered the revelations into just how much surveillance we are all under – is utterly missing.
And yet as we have shown, football worldwide and Premier League football in particular has money passing in and around it which is larger than that controlled by a large number of members of the United Nations.
In some countries such as Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Argentina football is collapsing under the threats from corruption and crowd rioting. In England there is a case to consider in terms of biased refereeing, and yet the media gives us little on these matters.
Worse, in the case of refereeing, when we do hear that there is an issue we are told that 97% of all refereeing decisions are correct. No evidence is given, but to their eternal shame, journalists don’t actually ask for proof and let us know the answer they got.
But what is the cause? Is it a deliberate policy to tell us all is sweet and lovely, for fear that the football authorities might stop the journalist from attending matches? There have been one or two cases like this – Leeds used to do it I recall, but not many.
Or are the footballing authorities making a broader sweep: lay off this topic or else you will lose your licence to print fixtures and your accreditation within the grounds? That is possible, and here’s why…
In February this year Peter Osborne resigned as chief political commentator at the Telegraph, after five years in the job. He report of the matter is certainly worth a read.
He realised something was up when his factual account of the banking giant HSBC closing the accounts of British Muslims without any appeal was pulled by the The Telegraph. When the story started to emerge of a serious black hold in HSBC accounts it too was pulled.
It gets worse and worse, but the fact is that HSBC was advertising in the Telegraph and the Telegraph would not cover any negative story on HSBC.
Just as most papers would not cover the story about a German television crew recently being arrested, interrogated and having all the content they had recorded deleted and equipment destroyed by Qatari authorities while filming a documentary about the 2022 World Cup.
A reporter, cameraman, camera assistant and driver were denied permission to leave the dictatorship for five days and were only allowed to return home following intense lobbying by their ambassador. If you missed that one, it is not surprising.
So there is a growing problem with some of the press, and the Telegraph in particular, which goes beyond the normal political bias. The right wing press in Britain for example are on a relentless campaign against the SNP, the hugely successful party of Scotland, but that is to be expected. We know it is there, and that’s what you get. In the name of freedom of publication, I can live with that because it is overt, crude and badly done.
But this sort of deliberate manipulation of stories, and the cutting of stories for fear of offending Qatar (and so not getting accreditation for the world cup) or for fear of offending HSBC (for fear of losing advertising) is much more serious and much more sinister.
Now of course I know that it is still possible to contemplate ludicrous articles in the press as being created through ignorance not through deliberate bias, and it is true that the Telegraph’s refusal to cover the admission by the Liverpool owner about how he lied, lied and lied again over the Suarez £40m buy out clause might have been slipshod journalism, or just a decision based on the notion that football fans’ memories are so short that they wouldn’t remember the original affair by the time the revelation came out.
But when they use that omission as a fundamental point on which to build another article (in this case knocking Arsenal) nearly two years later, is pushing this a bit far.
Why the Telegraph doesn’t want to run stories about HSBC closing accounts due to religious affiliation (or at least run a story showing why these are awful rumours set up by the enemies of the bank) and why it wouldn’t cover the story of HSBC’s financial failure, are of course much more weighty.
But once this sort of thing is going on, then it is almost certain to permeate the whole of the newspaper, and most likely the whole of the media.
And when that happens, something stranger happens too. For the Telegraph, the Henry admission of lying never happened – hence last week’s article attacking Arsenal for being weak willed. But then it begins to warp the entire way the Telegraph writes about Arsenal from thereon in.
And not just Arsenal, but also other football matters. Such as refereeing. The policy is clearly that even the notion that some referees might be not acting in the full interests of the game is not to be debated. I am not saying they should say, “Premier League refs are corrupt” but at least acknowledge that there are issues to be considered in the figures available, the strange “97%” response from PGMO, the singular lack of available officials, and the danger that brings… well you know all this if you regularly read Untold.
To me, the behaviour of the Telegraph of late, and the failure of much of the media to focus on the behaviour of officialdom in Qatar suggests that what we are seeing is not just political bias, not just football journalistic incompetence, but a policy within much of the media not to touch anything to do with certain topics.
So, to conclude consider this: incompetence or a deliberate attempt to knock? It comes from today’s Telegraph on line. It contained both these headlines