By Tony Attwood
As you might know, I have a fascination with the way in which football, and its many aspects are presented on the media. How the integrity of referees is never questioned, how the notion that transfer rumours (which are 97% wrong) come to be considered news, how the key issues of the day are actively ignored. How no one in the media ever criticises other aspects the media.
In short the media presents a single vision of football, a vision in which football is ok, it’s doing fine – there might be details that need sorting out, but they are details. Basically it is all right, and anyone who says otherwise is just whinging as their club is not doing well.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in April 1974 the Observer newspaper suggested that evening TV was turning humdrum games (such as Chelsea 1 Arsenal 3 the day before) into exciting affairs through skilful editing and hyped commentary in order to keep the TV audiences up. It was quite probably the first time such an accusation was made – and it was undoubtedly true.
Negative comments about TV and radio presentations are not heard today. Nor are criticisms of referees; criticisms of the type Alan Green used to make routinely as part of his radio commentaries of Five Live. Nor do we hear criticism of PGMO for their utter secrecy – something not reflected in many other countries in Europe. Nor do we hear criticism of the fact that Liverpool seemed to get the same referee over and over again during the 2019/20 season.
Nor do we hear anything negative about the 2022 world cup, with its stadia built by slave labour. Nor about the incompetence of the FA who spent millions of pounds bidding for the right to host that world cup, only to get two votes. Nor do we hear about the way in which paedophiles were able to infiltrate certain clubs and get away with it for years.
If some publications and blogs didn’t cover these issues, then fine – that would be a mix. But for virtually no one to touch on them? What is going on?
And I thought of this yesterday while I was watching Episode 12 of the “No turning back” series of videos, which involved an interview with Richard Bevan, CEO of the League Managers’ Association.
In the course of the interview Mr Bevan posed three questions which he said were asked over and over again:
a) In three years will football be in 360 million households around the world?
b) Will it still be sought after by every commercial broadcaster?
c) Will the best and biggest brands in the world want to associate themselves with football?
The answer to each question at the moment is clearly a resounding yes. And it struck me there and then why PGMO is never questioned about its secrecy, and why no one has ever taken up and made use of the incredible level of research in our 160 games series. Because the footballing world is investing billions in maintaining its image.
That investment in image is now so enormous that nothing is allowed to get in its way. The image makers promote football in a certain way and if anything comes along to tarnish that image it is either ignored, or played down and shuffled out of the way.
Think of three nights of celebration in Liverpool where thousands ignored the lock down regulations. It wasn’t ignored, but it was reported and then set aside quickly. It’s done, it was understandable, let’s move on, nothing to talk about.
Or to jump forward, why is what is currently happening in Switzerland as the legal authorities start to tear Fifa apart, not being reported in the British media. Or why did the media fail to report the story which we ran as Switzerland take a greater interest in Fifa – at last, ahead of the last time the Swiss decided to turn on Fifa. As we then pointed out a little later had they done so they could have saved themselves a lot of anguish.
Or why the UK media has not reported the mega fine heaped upon an Israeli bank for allowing money laundering of funds from Fifa to pass through their offices.
Meanwhile they criticise do go for the fact that Saudi Arabia was running a TV station that was set up to harm BeIN Sports but ignore that country’s awful human rights record. Likewise Qatar – stadia built by slave labour, but not reported because nothing must tarnish the image of football.
So as the FA is looking to use Brexit to restrict the number of foreign players in the Premier League still further on the grounds that the foreigners affect England’s chances of winning things on the international stage no one asks for evidence to see if that is true or not. The fairly simple research on that was first published in Untold in 2010 and has since been republished (without acknowledgement) in the Daily Telegraph in August 2013 – but now the subject is dropped.
And then back to referees. PGMO claimed 98.4% of all referee decisions were correct and how, amazingly, the media believed them, even when they said VAR would take that up another 2%.
The media is not slow to criticise the government, celebrities, the man in the street… but not football, because football has now become a PR machine to promote football. And they’ve done this by making football so central to the economies of so many countries, and so central to the financing of so many enterprises, that it doesn’t matter how corrupt it becomes, it must never be allowed to attract negative publicity.
So when we discover that the noise of the crowd dramatically influences referee decisions, how corrupt Fifa has been and is, how slave labour built the stadia in Qatar, how Qatar got the 2022 world cup through bribery and corruption, how 97% of all transfer stories are false… it won’t get much publicity.
The truth has become irrelevant. Only the image of the game is important, and everything else is sacrificed to that end.
Football is not a game or a competition. It is now an image control business.
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