What’s so wrong with both football, and with the reporting of football

By Tony Attwood

There is an article in The Atlantic.com which includes the statement

“Trump’s supporters have been in denial about Trump’s emotional instability, his malignant narcissism, his fascination with violent rhetoric, and his hostility to the American constitutional order.”

And yes that seems to be true.  The evidence is there on the one hand, and the rejection of it on the other hand, each seem to me to be fairly clear and well-publicised.

I could say much the same about COVID – the scientific evidence that it is out there causing lots of problems is there, it is written by and published by people and organisations I trust because it comes with clear scientific data.  So I believe it.  But as I was reminded this week through a very vitriolic email from a reader of the Bob Dylan blog I work on, not everyone accepts the same reality as me.

So that’s how it is.  Except for the fact that there is the media.   And the problem there is that within the media there are two important decision-making processes.  One is the decision on what to publish and what to ignore, and the other is the decision on what spin to put on the stories that are published.

And the fact is that those decisions influence what the readers get.   Which perhaps doesn’t matter much unless virtually all the media are following each other and deciding that x is an issue of interest and y isn’t.  It means we don’t hear about y, and so tend to believe it is not real.

Now if you are a regular reader of Untold, you’ll know I have often made the point over this, by highlighting the way we think about referees and their organisation.   The bulk of the media on the other hand don’t argue a contrary point of view, but rather they don’t touch the subject at all.  With referees there is no issue to be debated, so they don’t mention anything.

The same is true with Fifa.  Yes in extreme circumstances Fifa gets a mention, but the whole, bizarre and complex court case being fought out in Switzerland is simply not mentioned.   It is turning up all the time in the European media, but not here.

Which to a degree is rather odd.  I mean, it was odd for the media not to talk about Fifa and corruption when the authorities started to investigate how the head of the Swiss judicial system was having illicit secret meetings with the head of Fifa, who was being investigated for potentially corrupt actions.  Now, as you might have noticed in Is Fifa about to follow Infantino and move to the Persian Gulf? the whole thing has exploded to mega proportions.  The rest of Europe is agog, and in England… nothing.

There are explanations of course.  Refereeing is not talked about much, on the grounds that all supporters think the ref is biased against their club.  And quite possibly that is true, but when a mountain of evidence arises to suggest something is systemically wrong with refereeing, it seems odd not even to mention it.

And one might have thought that when the FA were humiliated by putting in a bid to host the world cup – a bid which cost £21m to submit (money which alternatively could have been spent on new pitches for young players – and which then only got two votes (one of which was England), someone might have spoken out.

But no – the cost got a mention, but the FA were left to get on with things.  Just as happened after the chaos of the Euro final.   Had such events happened at an Arsenal home match, the stadium would have been closed and the club fined.  With the FA, nothing.

So it goes on – either the issue is ignored completely (as with referees and the home/away bias, and the current Fifa corruption case) or it is mentioned but nothing changes (the FA’s failed bid for the world cup) or there is much hand-wringing and everyone except the FA is blamed (the Euro final etc etc).

As a result, the impression is given that everything is pretty much ok with football, and anything that isn’t is just down to “mindless thugs,” and why won’t the courts deal with them properly and lock them up for ten years each?

This view is, in my opinion, not the result of a conspiracy, but of the copycat decision-making of the media, wherein most of the media follow each other with a specific view (refereeing is not an issue, no need to change anything in the FA etc) and so never actually raises it as an a matter for debate.

This in turn makes a publication such as Untold Arsenal look very odd – focussing as it does on the issues that others don’t cover.

Occasionally of course we do have a little success, as when our long-term campaign against rotational fouling was finally picked up, and the phrase was used elsewhere for a short while.  But nothing was done, and there is still nothing in the rules that allows referees to penalise clubs which use the tactic.

Thus this is what seems to me to be the issue: not bias in terms of arguing in favour of one idea and against another, without using evidence, but the wholesale agreement in the media to ignore issues that are of interest.

It would matter somewhat less, if only some of the mainstream media ever considered why this should be the case, but the fact is that each pretend that what they choose to make “the news” is the news, and there is nothing else.

Of course one can argue that they don’t tackle the problems with football because there is nothing to discuss, but to put forward such a point one needs to consider the evidence and counter it.  And that is never done.

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