By Tony Attwood
In two recent articles on who controls football in England I came up with a list of ten suggestions…
- TV stations
- Newspapers and radio stations
- The Premier League
- The Football Association.
I was pondering whether there might be a third section to add to the list when I was distracted by reading a superb article by Marina Hyde in the Guardian which (to summarise some exquisite phraseology in just a few words and as a result make it all sound rather dull) suggests that maybe all sporting organisations are corrupt, perhaps by their very nature.
She mentions athletics and then in a lovely turn of phrase says, ‘Even at this stage of the revelations about tennis, I dare you to say Tennis Integrity Unit without reflexively deploying sarcastic air quotes. Sarcastic air quotes are tearing through sport like a contagion. I think it’s fair to say we’re going to struggle to resuscitate “the IAAF ethics commission”. And only the very optimistic can be holding out a lot of hope for the soon-to-be established “IAAF integrity unit”.’
Through this article I learned among other things about the existence of the International Centre for Sport Security, “a body set up to push for greater transparency in the bidding processes for major sporting events, and to safeguard the integrity of sport.”
Apparently it is 70% funded by the government of Qatar (honest – I kid you not) but according to Mohammed Hanzab who runs the thing, that doesn’t affect his work at all.
I also learned that last year the Qatar government hosted more than 40 international sporting events, which is frightening.
But back to these international sports bodies and the compliance units that trail in their wake. Compliance units all filled with people “who never regard themselves as responsible when anything goes wrong and whose rush to comment waspishly on whichever of their counterparts are in the spotlight this week”.
And it is here I have a regret, because this very focus on the international bodies (Fifa, Uefa etc) all of which seem to be wallowing in their own corruption scandals (and those that are not at the moment, most certainly will be in the months and years to come) seems to mean we focus less and less on the national organisations – like PGMO, the FA, the Football League, the Premier League and the like.
The PGMO (and as they used to say on the music hall stages, “I wish you would”). Hiding away in the corner, eschewing all publicity (save its couple of press releases that the Telegraph re-ran almost verbatim) and yet all the while claiming 98% accuracy for their referees, while an analysis of their work shows that on occasion some of them are getting little better than the score a computer would get if it awarded decisions on the pitch at random between the two teams.
No mention of the national bodies then. But because of the way they are, national sporting bodies like their international counterparts are able to set an agenda of corruption and cheating which then filters down through the sports they “oversee”. Thus, as I have argued before, if Fifa and Uefa are corrupt, then so are the bodies that have allied themselves so slavishly to Fifa and Uefa – organisations such as the FA. The FA, we know, flew Jack Warner thither and yon, trying to persuade him to support the FA’s insane bid to throw even more money at Fifa by holding another World Cup in England. Mr Warner wants to meet Prince Charles. Sure thing. Mr Warner wants to go to Old Trafford – quick get a helicopter, rearrange a match…
That’s how it is these days. But how do we ever step out of this mess?
At the moment such criticism as there is (which as I say is mostly on the international bodies rather than the national organisations that keep them in place), is invariably then focussed on individuals – the people who screw things up either through incompetence or for their own greed. For some reason we seem to find it very hard to focus on organisations and see just how awful they are. Which is I guess why I so liked Marina Hyde’s approach – she highlights the organisations, and it makes refreshing reading.
However we need to go much, much further. Organisations follow organisations, rather like the FA hanging onto the coat tails of Uefa and Fifa. Yet the FA gets an easy ride, as does the Premier League, from the media. Of course when someone is caught sending out sexist emails there is a lot of fuss and a call to resign, but then it all blows over until the next scandal.
What we don’t tend to get is the notion that all sporting bodies, local, regional, national, international, galactic (I imagine Fifa has an eye on the rights beyond the recently discovered Planet IX) are liable to be corrupt and need to be looked at carefully and seriously. For example, (and forgive me for beating the same old drum once again) I’ve never understood why the media so readily accepted the FA’s pathetic answers as to why it had its community football funding from Sport England removed. The excuses the FA gave (mostly relating to bad weather) were ludicrous and clearly not checked by the journalists (the weather during the period in question was fine).
But then, why did Sport England ever think that the FA could do the job?
The easiest way to reform sport will be by clubs and/or media suddenly waking up and instead of endlessly criticising individuals for making errors or being pompous greedy pigs, or just pointing at the next major institution that comes under scrutiny, by starting from the premise that it is more than likely every single sporting body is either corrupt or inept. Or both.
This would certainly help us in our battle to get people to consider PGMO – the body that supplies referees to the Premier League.
What we have at the moment is a situation comparable to a school in which in one class the students repeatedly fail their exams. The teacher endlessly blames the students, and for a long time everyone goes along with this. Then one day a newspaper says, “hang on – surely the teacher is to blame”.
So yes, the teacher is blamed and he/she is pushed out of the job and a new teacher is employed, without anyone asking,
a) how did the bad teacher get the job in the first place?
b) why did no one think to sort out the teacher long before the press got hold of the story?
c) how many more situations like this are there around the country?
And then most importantly, d) what are we doing to weed out other bad teachers before they screw up children’s lives too?
Or like the notion that having unearthed the awful and appalling massive sex scandal cover ups in Sheffield and Rotherham, it is safe to say that’s it now. All done. England is an ok and safe place for children to live. “No we haven’t looked for other examples of the same sort of situation, but I think you’ll find everything is all right now.”
Of course I am not comparing the horrors of Sheffield and Rotherham with sport. Sport is about people stuffing their own pockets full of money, and idiot politicians letting them – the other scandals are about destroying young people’s hearts, minds and bodies.
But it is the attitude that is always the same. “Everything’s fine – that was a one off.”
And who knows, the PGMO might be fine. An upstanding institution that is a model for the rest of the world to follow. But it is so shadowy, and so hard to pin down (it doesn’t even have a web site for goodness sake, and when any mild mention is made on the Wikipedia site that questions have been raised about its actions, these are then swiftly removed) that no wonder we are suspicious.
The best question we can ask these days is, “Would you be happy if you heard your son or daughter was working for a national or international sports body?” I suspect for many families the answer might be, “oh please, no, not that.”
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- 21 January 2011: Aaron Ramsey loaned to Cardiff, the club from whence he came. He had already had an earlier loan spell with Cardiff, followed by one at Nottingham Forest. This time he played six games and scored one goal.
- Arsenal continue to make more progress than the rest of the big seven
- Arsenal v Tottenham; the team and some rather jolly recent history
- We are running out of referees, and the reason is the PGMO.
- Arsenal v Tottenham: the key fact the media won’t to tell you – and why they won’t
- Arsenal v Tottenham: different clubs, different managers, different successes