When I heard that Barclays were seriously considering ending their sponsorship of the Premier League because they believe that football has an image problem, my immediate response involved the words pot, kettle and black. But on reflection, you can see that Barclays may have a point. Too often football stories appear on the front pages of newspapers, not on the back pages where they belong.
Allegations of corruption over FIFA’s awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, Yaya Toure throwing his toys out of the pram over the lack of a cake to mark his 33rd birthday, Richard Scudamore’s immature sexist emails and ongoing issues around racism and homophobia all mean that football does not have any shortage of problems.
In addition, there is a real concern among fans about the influence of money on the game. Many of Europe’s leading clubs are owned or sponsored either by Russian oligarchs or by Middle East based institutions. So it hardly comes as a surprise that the next two World Cups are scheduled for Russia and Qatar.
How does football go about cleaning up its image? It seems to me that part of the problem is that football doesn’t take communications seriously enough. Clubs often appoint ex football writers to manage their communications rather than employing experienced PR professionals.
Too few clubs make any real effort to understand the concerns of the communities in which they are based. When our leading clubs were formed in Victorian times they had their roots in local schools, churches and factories. For football to once again claim to be “the beautiful game” it need to rediscover these roots and stop treating the game’s core supporters merely as cash cows.
However, perhaps we shouldn’t just blame football but instead look at the bigger picture. It would take a nurse more than 10 years to earn what Yaya Toure is paid in one week. What does that tell you about the values of modern British society?