The communications were rude, offensive and ill-thought out. That they were made in an entirely personal capacity offered little or no excuse. A man in his position ought to have the basic judgement not to say such things while being in that position. He did not remain in that position for long. That last sentence tells you, of course, that the above is not about Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore. Not only because Scudamore remains in his position at the time of typing – despite the crude sexism in email correspondence exposed by the Mirror newspaper this weekend. But also because at the time of typing, he is likely to remain in position.
No, it was a general view about the then Chief Executive of Supporters Direct (SD), Dave Boyle. On May 21 2011, Boyle was in celebratory mood, as AFC Wimbledon – a flagship example of SD’s work – gained promotion into the Football League, nine years after the very concept of the club was deemed “bad for football.” Via Twitter, he exacted a verbal revenge on two of the main characters in the Wimbledon saga – entrepreneur Pete Winkleman, who moved the old Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, and lawyer Raj Parker, one of the three-man FA panel who approved the move. And Boyle suggested “**** the bible, this is the greatest story ever told.”
For reasons which might not have been obvious at first glance, Scudamore’s Premier League were high among the outraged – after somebody told them about it, as they hadn’t notice the comments at the time. And the league threatened to cut the funding it provided to SD via the Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF) unless SD took “appropriate” action against Boyle. “Appropriate” meant sacking him. Because although SD publicly rebuked Boyle and gave assurances that “it won’t happen again” and although Boyle did the honourable thing and resigned (a concept to which we shall return), the funding was frozen anyway and only reinstated after a public campaign highlighted the obvious heavy-handedness of the decision and its vindictively political nature.
SD continues to be a powerful advocate of fan ownership of clubs and responsible financial management and governance, both of which sit uncomfortably with the ultra-free-market principles and ultra-light financial regulation of the “world’s greatest league.” And Boyle was a powerful, influential advocate of SD policy. His articulate performance at a parliamentary inquiry into football governance just three months before the controversy was a highlight of his tenure as SD CE. Bit of a leftie, too. And the Daily Mail were naturally on his case, sports diarist Charles Sale labelling him a “far-left political activist” while calling Boyle’s tweets “inappropriate for the leader of an organisation.” So, the argument goes, he was a threat…and had to be stopped.
Nearly three years later, Scudamore has, like Boyle, apologised for his comments, which he realises were “inappropriate and wrong”…by pure co-incidence of timing just after they were reprinted in the Mirror. And by way of mitigation, a “Premier League source” has explained that they were “not intended for wider recipients” and were “meant in a Frankie Howerd way.” Mmmm. If this “source” thinks he was helping…
Scudamore’s nonsense can be found in Matthew Drake’s Mirror article, whose headline begins “Premier League sexism. Richard Scudamore called women…” I won’t detail it here. But in search of a rational analysis which it appears to defy, I will reproduce this: “You will learn over time that female irrationality increases exponentially depending on how many members join your family,” which appears to make no moral or mathematical sense whatsoever.
So, does Scudamore have to be stopped? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Because even as I’m typing this (just as financial fair play alleged-cheats Manchester City lift the Premier League Trophy), the pro-Scudamore drivel has already started. Former culture secretary Dame Tessa Jowell suggested “Richard needs to reflect on the disconnect between what he thinks privately and what he has tried to achieve publicly,” adding she still thought him “a decent man.” Ah yes, that accursed “disconnect” (which, by the way, is not a noun). As in “next time this sort of thing happens, I must disconnect my PC before anybody sees what I’ve written.” She suggested that any consideration of Scudamore’s position was “a matter for his bosses.” Scudamore is, of course, answerable to the Premier League’s two-man board, one of whom is…Richard Scudamore. That’ll work. And her final comment was a prime example of one piece of nonsense which always rears its head in such situations. Dame Tessa expected and hoped that “as a changed person” Scudamore would “never, ever express again” his “unacceptable views.”
I cannot understand why Scudamore will be “a changed person” simply because some private emails became public. I’m fairly certain Dave Boyle still regards Wimbledon’s journey from the Combined Counties to the Football League in nine years as a greater story than anything in the Gospel according to St Luke, and that neither Winkelman nor Parker are on his proverbial Christmas card list. I’m equally certain that Scudamore hasn’t had a moral transformation over the weekend. He didn’t have an epiphany, otherwise he would already have done the honourable thing and resigned (see above). He got caught. He’ll just be more careful in future, not necessarily more respectful.
Scudamore’s situation is very similar to Donald Sterling, recently banned by America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) from all involvement with the NBA team he owns, the Los Angeles Clippers, over racist comments. Another example, perhaps, of major American sport’s corporate governance superiority over the Premier League; and, more importantly, doing the right thing. Indeed, I share the view that “for most other CEOs in sport, such loose-lipped talk would be an immediate resignation issue.” So credit where it is due to the journalist who wrote these words in the aftermath of Boyle’s comments. His name? Charles Sale of the Daily Mail, who, I am sure, will readily express the same sentiment about Scudamore when the opportunity arises. Won’t he?
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