Sophie Jones & Actions Which Have Consequences

The case of Sophie Jones be considered done and dusted. The punishment was appropriate to the gravity of offence caused. The matter was dealt with swiftly and it can now be considered a closed case. The formal punishment of the FA is in line with standards. John Terry received a four match ban and a £220,000 fine for his abuse of Anton Ferdinand in 2011. Jones received a five match ban and £200 for her racist abuse of a Tottenham Hotspur player during a match in the Championship at the start of January. The FA introduced a minimum five match ban in 2013, after the John Terry incident had been considered done and dusted, whilst the fine amount for Jones also looks as though it could well roughly the same as John Terry received,  proportionally speaking.

That, however, wasn’t the end of the matter for Jones. She has been ordered to attend an FA inclusion and diversity workshop. It is to be hoped that this helps her in some way, and that she doesn’t come to view it as a punishment. Renee Nelson, whose experience will likely be swept to one side as the news cycle carries on, deserves better. Still though, today all eyes were on Jones, and further punishment followed for her when it was announced that her contract with Sheffield United had been terminated “by mutual consent,” although it was difficult to believe that boths sides of that particular conversation carried equal weight in it. She subsequently announced her retirement from playing.

And then there’s the matter of this being the thing about her. Everybody does know, and that can’t be undone. She’s pretty much undoubtedly the most famous Sophie Jones in the world, right now. Or, at least, she hogs the first page of Google’s search returns in the UK, and the results from Google’s German page don’t look much better either. That’ll likely fade with time, unless it comes to be replaced by something else. She has the option to lay low and let it fade, of course, but she also has the opportunity to learn, to take this pretty disastrous situation and do something productive with it. In the current febrile political environment, that comes with an element of risk. But ultimately, she should, as anybody should, only be judged by the nature of her behaviour in the future. How she decides to come to terms with that idea is, of course, up to her. Her initial statement was, well… judge for yourselves:

I would like to state on record that I do not condone racism in any form and I will continue to stand by this statement.

I strongly stand firm that I am not guilty with regards to the charge that the FA have brought against me.

I am struggling to come to terms with this decision and how The FA can come to a verdict based on probability from the two witness accounts verbally given, instead of reviewing the case and its evidence, in its entirety, based on the Sport Law and Practice Second Edition stating ‘the more serious the allegation the greater degree of satisfaction required’.

The FA ‘independent’ panel received more than 10 other witness statements from payers with the alleged incident vicinity including Tottenham players, also all the match officials, all confirming they did not hear any racial abuse and or comments made.

I strongly stand firm that I am not guilty with regards to the charge that the FA have brought against me.

There may have been examples of players having contracts terminated over this sort of behaviour in the non-league game before, but the highest-profile case that springs readily to mind is that of the three young Leicester City players fired by that club in 2015. However, none of the players concerned with this story were high profile and none had their careers ended by it. One now plays for Southend United, one now plays for Bristol Rovers, and the third for Macclesfield Town. They have retained their professional careers, but none are anywhere near the Premier League – though it is worth pointing out that this might have come about anyway, considering the elite game’s attrition rate – and all three missed out on being around Leicester City at the time of a once in a lifetime title win. They are, though, at least still professional footballers.

There is an obvious reason behind why Sheffield United could be so decisive in their action. Sophie Jones’ contract was unlikely to be for very much money, so there was no significant financial risk in taking the decision that they took. It doesn’t feel like this is a matter that has been treated this way because she is a woman at first, but… she has been treated this way because the club could afford to. She can’t earn the sort of money that Sheffield United’s male players earn, and firing her is lower-risk rather than sacking an equivalent men’s player might be. She might have been sacked because she is a woman, but being a woman ultimately made her easier to sack. No, it’s not fair. Yes, yes, yes, market forces. We all know about those, and all the good they’ve done in the world. But if we agree that redistribution of wealth to some degree or other is A Good Thing, then the redistribution of wealth into women’s football is surely a good thing too. Few complain that money is redistributed to non-league clubs in the FA Cup through prize money, for example.

Indeed, “subsidy” from the money brought in by the men’s team isn’t quite as black and white an issue as it’s often presented. It’s something women’s football wants. It’s something that it needs, in no small part because its opportunity to grow was strangled through banned altogether by the FA for half a century, from 1921 to 1971. There’s an argument for saying that the reparations for that could be substantially higher than those being paid at the moment in terms of wages that aren’t sustained from the money generated by the women’s team. It’s also worth pointing out that even the extent of the “subsidy” that so many claim might well be overstated. The Women’s Super League has a television deal with BT Sport, and an increasing number of matches are being shown on the BBC as well, including not only the final of this year’s Women’s FA Cup, but also both semi-final matches.

As women’s football grows, so its commercial value will grow with it. Earlier today, a sponsorship deal worth £10m was agreed with Barclays for the Womens Super League to cover the next three years. It’s not an insignificant amount of money, and for the first time there will now be prize money in WSL, with £500,000 to be divided up according to league position each season. This may never match the sheer commercial juggernaut that is the men’s game, but it’s worth asking whether women’s football would even want to become as distended with wealth as the Premier League has in recent years.

And on top of all of this… it’s also true that these are all ultimately different branches of the same club. From this perspective, any talk of “subsidy” is a red herring. It simply doesn’t work like that. And therein lies something approaching the nub of the matter. Sophie Jones’ racist behaviour towards Renee Hector was stupid. Ignorant. And Jones has lost something at which she was very good and presumably enjoyed as a result of it all, on the very day that a sponsorship deal unlike anything seen in women’s football in this country before, and has a public reputation which has been pretty much trashed. It’s not even a matter of whether she “deserved” to lose out just as this particular window of opportunity opened up, elsewhere in the women’s game. The message is that actions have consequences. It’s a cautionary tale so clear that anybody making the same mistakes in the future would only have themselves to blame for whatever happened next.