By Tony Attwood
Given that every day football is in the news, and given that this daily feed of news does not generally include any questioning of the actions of referees, the way journalists report the sport, the coverage of matches by TV, the behaviour of Fifa officials, the allegations that one club threatened to sue Uefa out of existence if it continued with its enquiries, the fact that English football appears to be awash with child abuse cases, the secrecy of the referees’ association or the continuing wholesale decline of facilities for young people to play football, one might be forgiven for thinking everything is fine.
Yes, racial abuse, child sex abuse, the decline in facilities and the corruption of officials within football’s most senior body all pop up into the news from time to time, but then they quickly fade away. Which suggests there’s nothing to see. It was all a bit of media hooha.
And it is because these stories do “fade away” such issues then become felt as a sort of low level background noise that means nothing much. Fantasy stories about transfers replace the news of Fifa corruption, child sex abuse, referee secrecy etc.
Indeed it is this simple observation, that issues that are inherently big news are constantly replaced by fantasy tales, that tells us that something in football is terribly wrong.
Why, when 97% of transfer rumours turn out to be untrue do publishers large and small, professional and amature, continue to focus on these fantasies rather than the fact that football is immersed in a set of issues which are horribly real, horribly serious, and utterly horrible?
This is the question that bothers me and a prime reason why I keep Untold Arsenal running I don’t see how anyone can seriously deny that there appear to be some things that are terribly wrong with football both in terms of England, where I live, and on the international level. (And to be clear I am not saying these things ARE wrong, rather than they appear to be wrong and appear to need investigating). Yet day after day they are ignored and replaced by trivia in the media large and small.
To give two examples… First Fifa continues to be mired in financial scandals and yet the English FA is seriously considering spending millions of pounds on another bid to host the world cup, after getting just two votes last time. Second evidence of large scale child sex abuse scandals have emerged within football, but criticism of the delays in the enquiries into these scandals has been virtually non-existent.
Meanwhile discussion of other matters goes on as if everything is fine, with the notion that any suggestion of something being terribly amiss is the result of the delusions of a conspiracy theorist who probably also believes the earth is flat and that a secret cabal of financiers is running the world.
The more I ponder this, the more it seems to me that the organisation of football has become rather like a religion: something that one is not only called upon to believe in and not question but also an activity where any wrongdoing by practitioners is instantly set aside as irrelevant to the overall truth of the faith, no matter how huge the wrongdoing, no matter how many are involved. And so strong has this belief become that anyone who questions it is seen as an idiot and portrayed as a freak, an outsider, a weirdo, or worse as a dangerous spreader of ideas the sole purpose of which is to harm the game or harm the religion.
Thus as with most religions, although one can question some technical aspects of the detail of the belief, the fundamentals are given and not open to debate. God, for example, exists, the holy books contain truth, and His church shows us the way to live. With football, Fifa is almighty, any misdemeanor by that organisation is mere detail, and anyone protesting is merely a killjoy.
Of course there are occasional priests and occasional Fifa officials who fall from grace and do come to court but that does not undermine the truth of the teachings of the church and the worthiness of Fifa as an organiser; merely they point to the fallibility of individuals.
So strong can this viewpoint be, that people do believe, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary. In football the situation is that there is racism, there are multiple child sex abuse cases surrounding many football clubs, there is wholesale corruption in Fifa, and yet these fundamental, incredibly important issues are reduced by the media to mere background. The tale of a transfer that will never happen is more important.
And thus my question is why? Why do so many people fall for this notion that everything is ok within football? Why do people believe the stories about football that journalists, professional and amateur, provide every day when so many of the tales are palpably untrue? Why are the really big stories just shunted aside as inconvenient bits of background?
In short, where is the critical examination of football? And come to that, why is it, when those of us who write for Untold do our own examination of an issue within football, conducted with our limited resources, are we dismissed?
In asking that question I am not suggesting that just because we suggest that (for example) something is wrong with the refereeing of professional matches in this country, or the way in which football is being reported in the media, everyone should immediately say, yes of course Untold is right and everyone else is wrong. Of course not. But I am suggesting there are serious questions out there which are not being considered.
Of course some consider there are not such issues – but the trouble is they never tell us why. Which is a bit odd.
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