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Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
Dave Boyle enjoyed bits of last week. But, perhaps learning from his experiences in 2011, the rudest word he has come up with in reaction to the “Scudamore affair” is schadenfreudegasm. If Premier League (EPL) Chief Executive Richard Scudamore ever thought the Sunday Mirror newspaper story about his sexist e-mails would end with his apology and the curious inability of the game’s governing body to act against him (the FA, remember), he was wrong. If he thinks the EPL put an end to the affair with their “investigation into the newspaper allegations” and the subsequent statement from acting Chair Peter McCormick, then he’s wrong again. And that’s three “errors of judgment” in a week, which is going some, even for modern “English” football.
Scudamore probably thought there were enough vested interests in football – or at least in the money his broadcasting deal negotiating skills have brought to EPL clubs – to protect him. But enough people in and around football resent that money enough to want, and work for, his resignation (what, for instance, have Cardiff City done to deserve £62m?). More importantly, enough people in general simply believe it wrong that Scudamore should remain in his job after admitting to using such discriminatory language. Thus the story stayed sufficiently high-profile to allow it this week’s Sunday Mirror to publish a follow-up.
This follow-up was so at odds with the EPL “investigation’s” findings (I use the inverted commas advisedly) that all we can be sure of is that Scudamore sent the emails, that he still has the attitude expressed in them, and that somebody is lying about what happened next. And McCormick’s statement certainly raises more questions than it answers. There’s the disappearing role of its Audit and Remuneration Committee, which was reported to be meeting this week to decide whether disciplinary action was required, only for EPL clubs to eventually take the decision. What “further” disciplinary action did EPL clubs eventually decide was not “required or justified.” And which “external specialist legal advisors” carried out the investigation? What was their remit? Will their findings be published? Like I say, if Scudamore, or anyone at the EPL, thinks we are at the end of the affair, they look likely to be wrong.
The affair certainly kept the media busy last week. Even the Daily Mail newspaper’s Charles Sale couldn’t ignore it. “Inappropriate for the leader of an organisation,” Sale had said of the tweets which forced Boyle to resign as Supporters Direct Chief Executive in 2011. Predictably, he didn’t re-use that phrase last week. He did, though, call Scudamore’s emails “puerile,” which is further than I thought he would go. Nonetheless, calls for Scudamore’s resignation came from elsewhere. Almost everywhere, in fact, albeit that the level of condemnation was disturbingly uneven. FA Chairman Greg Dyke took the “totally inappropriate” line, although cynics might attribute the excessive speed with which he did so to relief that his “B-Team” proposals were elbowed off the sports pages.
Edward Lord OBE, an FA Inclusion Advisory Board (IAB) member, wrote an open letter to Dyke and EPL Chairman Anthony Fry to highlight the specific FA rules and the areas of the EPL’s own Anti-Discrimination policy he believed Scudamore had breached. In response, Dyke revealed that FA policy “has always been that we do not consider something stated in a private email communication to amount to professional misconduct.” But even that excuse for inaction, as some cynics may view it, was shaky, as the offending emails came from Scudamore’s premierleague.com account. Certainly the distinction between public and private communication will have been news to avid readers of the EPL Handbook (you know who you are) – as their anti-discrimination policy governs conduct “at all times.” FA General Secretary Alex Horne regurgitated the old “we need to move on” line. And he claimed that “the worst thing is that it is continuing to run and it doesn’t represent, in my opinion, from my position at the FA, an environment we want to show to women coming into the game,” which rather read as a call to sweep the issue under the nearest carpet.
There were mixed messages from politics too. Sports minister Helen Grant condemned Scudamore’s comments as “completely unacceptable and very disappointing,” but – cynics may say partly because she issued that condemnation from an EPL workshop in Malaysia – calls for specific disciplinary action were left to her shadow minister Clive Efford. Ruth Holdaway, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation CEO, hoped that the EPL could “demonstrate unequivocally that this instance of sexism was a one-off” and wasn’t “emblematic of a wider sexist culture.” But much of the ongoing reaction to the emails suggested otherwise, particularly FA director and IAB chair Heather Rabbatts, who cited “growing evidence of a closed culture of sexism…symbolised by the email exchanges.”
Rabbatts also criticised the EPL’s lack of “proper lines of accountability and good governance.” As this site noted last week, CEOs normally answer to boards. But the EPL has just two directors, including one R. Scudamore esq. So instead, he was reportedly to face the, ahem, “wrath” of the EPL’s… erm… Audit and Remuneration Committee at a scheduled meeting he would normally attend anyway, chaired by Bruce Buck, a mate of his. The Observer newspaper’s Owen Gibson noted, “some suggest that it is not too far from the truth” that Scudamore “hand-picked his inquisitors,” adding that the EPL’s “due process” in this matter could “look like the perpetuation of a cosy boy’s club.” Perhaps mindful of this, McCormick didn’t reference the Committee in his statement. Whether the Committee had a role, or ever had a role, will be clearer by the time you read this, I’m sure.
Naturally, Scudamore has had media friends upon whom to call, as when uppity FA types such as Adam Crozier and Lord David Triesmann told a few home/financial truths about the EPL and thus required undermining – both personally and professionally. The Daily Telegraph website carried a remarkable interview long-time Scudamore collaborator Henry Winter had with “Natasha Henry, Arsenal fan,” who eloquently took us through Scudamore’s entire mitigation. She began with the disputed line that they were “private emails, they weren’t sent from his Premier League account. And she wondered “What would we all be labelled if someone read our private emails?” while labelling Scudamore’s comments “juvenile.” She thought it “awfully convenient” that “it came out on the final Premier League weekend,” and suggested that “a lot of the people condemning Scudamore are part of the problem…working in an organisation as undiverse as the organisation he’s working in.” “You mean the Football Association,” Winter helpfully clarified.
Natasha also meant “a lot of people in the media” who “should question” why “their workplace” is (so) undiverse.” And if football itself was “more diverse” then “maybe” Scudamore “wouldn’t feel that it was OK to have said these things.” “Everyone” in football was “responsible.” And Scudamore was “just the page-turner we’re talking about this month and in two months’ time it will be someone else.” Much of what Natasha said made sense. And she did not “condone” Scudamore’s behaviour. But the sum of her mitigation was little more than mass “whataboutery.” What about the FA? What about the media?
“Whataboutery” was the key theme of the Mail’s Martin Samuel, as he accused Scudamore’s higher-profile critics of varying forms of hypocrisy. Scudamore had been “an ass,” but so too had Rabbatts, Dyke and Lord. Indeed, Lord studied “public policy and public management at the University of Essex, where he was chairman of the students’ union council and a student member of the university senate.” So, as Samuel said: “You can probably work out the rest.” Just as UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed that “you know the difference” between having German and Romanian neighbours? Aside from political smearing (a contractual obligation at the Mail, some would argue), Samuel made a number of good points. But not one amounted to a jot of justification for Scudamore’s actions.
The Independent’s Sam Wallace said “Scudamore’s humiliation has been thorough,” which implied a previously unheralded sense of shame. “A profound apology and no reoffending should be enough,” Wallace added, succumbing to the hopelessly misguided notion that because Scudamore got “caught” he will automatically revise every sexist attitude in the emails. Meanwhile, Matthew Syed of the Times claimed that “any attempt to punish Scudamore would represent another dangerous assault on the right to privacy.” Well, clearly the call had gone out to support Scudamore. So, even the best writers had to say something.
Naturally, the “political correctness gone mad” brigade had their usual competition to see who can throw the first allegation of “fascism” at Scudamore’s critics. And with the story in week two, there is increasing scope for claims that the matter has been blown out of all proportion. Wallace claimed, incorrectly, called the story a “slow burner… only picking up pace when some have… applied pressure in the belief that they can topple him.” He added: “Eventually all nuance is lost. A tipping point is reached and a resignation is demanded to ‘kill the story’.” But the story has largely survived because of Scudamore’s initial efforts to “kill” it.
The Sunday Mirror’s follow-up revealed that these efforts came from the same “private” account as the offending emails. He told EPL chairmen and CEOs they were from “personal emails I sent in response to emails from a very long-serving business associate and friend” which were “accessed without authority and in breach of confidentiality” by “a temporary employee who was only with us for a few weeks.” But the “temporary employee”, Rani Abraham, told the paper that as “part of my daily duties” such emails “would automatically come up on screen for me to look after for him… And they were not from a personal email – it was his Premier League address. They can’t be private if I had access to them.” However, McCormick still claimed that “these emails were private communications between friends of long-standing,” and effectively branded Abraham a liar, when it would surely have been wise to put such matters to proper legal test first.
The paper also cast doubt on what McCormick called Scudamore’s “genuine and sincere apology,” revealing that his email, sent the evening before the initial revelations, said: “The newspaper is asserting that some of the content is sexist and inappropriate. On the assumption that they publish, you will be the judge.” But despite everything, Scudamore admitted a serious disciplinary offence for which he should face disciplinary procedures. Lord suggested: “Richard’s comments must be in breach of the Premier League’s own Anti-Discrimination Policy.” And he highlighted the fourth of the policy’s five short paragraphs (which contrast with the next four pages in the EPL Handbook about…er…”Camera Positions at a League Match”).
This states: “The League will not tolerate sexual… harassment or other discriminatory behaviour… and the Board will ensure that such behaviour is met with appropriate disciplinary action.” “Due process” for this wasn’t specified, as the Handbook advanced to the thorny problem of positioning “beauty-shot cameras.” And this is a tangible problem, not the creation of Scudamore’s enemies – real or perceived. The headlines may scream: “witch-hunt.” Samuel may dismiss events as a “media scandal.” But it is clearly more than that. Scudamore’s basic salary does not reflect his physical work but the responsibility he holds, the usual basis for executive pay (“his” mega-money broadcast deals are reflected in bonuses).
Others in comparable situations with comparable responsibilities in their part of football (though without the comparable remuneration) were forced to resign. Dave Boyle, for one. And Paul Elliott resigned from “all roles representing the FA” last year after using the N-word in what was supposed to be a private text message. That issue was dealt with responsibly, properly and without media storm. The FA chairman David Bernstein thanked Elliott for “his dedicated and unstinting work, particularly in the area of anti-racism,” but added that “the use of discriminatory language is unacceptable regardless of its context.”
The EPL, it seems, think different. Which means the story won’t go away.
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Give it up. Our masters have spoken.