By Tony Attwood
Ian Wright made his comments last night on BBC Radio 5, and I think it is fair to say that it caused the chair of the discussion and the other guests a certain on the show an amount of discomfort and uncertainty as to how to handle the conversation thereafter.
Unfortunately for me I was driving to a gig at the time and so could neither record the show nor make notes as it went along, but the thankfully the BBC has put that part of the discussion on its web site. Ian Wright said, speaking in relation to Sterling playing for England,
“How many people do you see get the criticism Sterling gets? The football criticism is something every player has to deal with, but what he gets I don’t see any other footballer getting. They don’t get that stick because for whatever reason they don’t rub up the people in the corridors of power the wrong way. I think there is an agenda against him.
“There is an element of people at high end of the media who want to keep that guy down. Simple. When you look at the wave of criticism that he takes, there is a certain amount of racism towards it – what else can it be?
“They are picking on him because of the background he has come from and they want to keep him down, drag him back down. They don’t want him to continue to be a success.”
It is the sort of criticism of the media (and indeed the FA) that one does not often hear, largely because for the media to report such criticism it is commenting negatively upon itself – which of course it won’t do. Checking the web sites of the Guardian and Telegraph, two papers with very different political views, but both at the more educated and literate end of the spectrum, neither has a word about the discussion on its website.
Which is interesting, because it is hard to argue against the notion that an ex-England player calling the media and the FA both racist surely, is a story.
What adds to the story is that the comments by Ian Wright came just 24 hours after another BBC radio channel (Radio 4) broadcast a learned discussion on President Trump’s continuous attacks on the media, and what it means both for the reporting of events in America now, and what it could mean in the future.
That discussion, to my mind, had one very important point missing – despite the eminence and knowledge of the three people being interviewed (Lyse Doucette was one of them and you don’t get much more eminent than that in broadcasting). That point was the media’s dual role: it not only decides what is and what is not news, it also takes a stance on the news.
Although in the broader context, my beef about how the media reports football is trivial when compared with Trump’s overarching demonizing of the media, the refusal even to mention Ian Wright’s allegations of racism against the media in its football reporting is telling.
The great problem with the English media in its reporting of football is, from my point of view (although I admit, not from too many other people’s point of view) is that whereas on issues of national debate there is often a range of views expressed by the media, when it comes to certain topics such as football, or one might also cite Jeremy Corbyn, and a few key political and religious matters, it is very much a one sided debate with no proper coverage of the alternative viewpoint.
But sticking with the football, it is very hard to find much criticism of the FA for its handling of the game, and when there is such criticism (such as with the Allerdyce affair) there is little commentary on how stupid the FA was in appointing a man with such a “colourful” background, if I might call it that.
As I have mentioned many a time, I was outraged by the way the media utterly refused to cover the story of how Sport England withdraw its funding from the FA for work on new facilities for young players because of the misuse of the money. It was an utter scandal which in any other walk of life in the UK would have led to publicity and a proper public and parliamentary enquiry into the working of the organisation. Nothing happened save that Sport England stopped funding the FA and Untold and a handful of other places covered it.
Indeed I would also suspect that very few people in the UK know that Parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in the FA – and yet the government ignores this and goes on funding the body with taxpayers’ money. Despite this, its finances are in a total mess, and its internal structures have still not been reformed, despite call after call for it to sort itself out. Meanwhile last year we had Mark Sampson, the manager of the England women’s team being sacked following evidence of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour. It is mentioned occasionally but it is just another event in a catalogue of failure.
Ian Wright’s evidence for racism in the media that he gave last night was sketchy and wouldn’t stand up in court, but for me that is not the issue. It is the way the protest is ignored. The banding together of much of the media to avoid any criticism of what it decides is and is not news, is one of the great problems that we have both in football, and in our country at large.
The BBC is far from perfect in its coverage of football, and much of the time does follow the herd, but at least this time, as indeed in the past over Allerdyce, it has stood up and let a dissenting voice be heard.
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