Off the Ball

Once again it has been a very bad week for the reputation of football. The ongoing allegations of corruption surrounding FIFA’s awarding of the World Cup to Russia and to Qatar, the controversy over whether or not Sheffield United should re-employ convicted rapist Ched Evans, the boorish chanting by England supporters in Glasgow on Tuesday and the surprising decision of Wigan Athletic to appoint Malky Mackay as their new manager are just some of the headlines which the game could well live without. The list goes on and on.

It is not as if we haven’t been here before. I’ve said previously in these posts that football needs to pay far more attention to the communications and reputation management issues affecting the game. Anyone who witnessed FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s embarrassingly awful performance on Newsnight last week, when he described the Ched Evans issue as “unimportant”, might also feel that football might benefit from better leadership.

Local authorities and other public sector bodies could well teach football a lesson here. It is now standard practice in most Councils for communications issues to be one of the key factors considered before any major decision is made. But in football it still seems to the custom to make decisions and then deal with the PR fall out afterwards.

For example, Wigan were at best highly naive to appoint Mackay without considering that the media would lead their coverage with the FA inquiry into allegations that MacKay had sent texts that included racist, homphobic and anti semitic language. As several national papers have pointed out, any Wigan supporter using such language on social media would have been looking at lifetime ban from the club.

Football is extremely important to the social and economic well being of the country, yet it seems to be stuck in a never ending cycle of staggering from one crisis to the next. Football’s leaders urgently need to get their act together, demonstrate statesman like decision making and pay more attention to the how their decision will be viewed by the media and by the public.

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