Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Scudamore keeps his job but we are not amused

Scudamore keeps his job, but we are not amused
The Richard Scudamore affair has highlighted football's failure to move with the times once more.

That the Chief Executive of the Premier League had used such derogatory language about women is extraordinary to most people in Britain in 2014, even if it was in the context of private emails sent to male buddies with a wink-wink nudge-nudge tone about them.

It is worrying to think that anyone in a position of power could slip so casually into the sort of crude discrimination which should have gone out with the dark ages, or at least when the 1928 Representation of the People Act equalised male and female voting rights in the United Kingdom.

The manner of the comments was at the very least puerile and ill-becoming of a middle-aged married father of five and the head of a major organisation in the public eye.

In Scudamore's defence, his emails were sent jokingly to friends alone and claims his temporary P.A. had no right to search through his emails.

The idea that all our private discourse should be gone over with a fine-toothed comb in public is Orwellian, and a civilised society should include the possibility of forgiveness and atonement instead of rushing to punish every time. If Scudamore has truly repented having seen the error of his ways, and henceforth fights the corner of women in sport then that would surely be a triumph, of sorts.

"The apology I have made is sincere," pleaded Scudamore, "as is the contrition I feel...It is something that will never be repeated."

That said, the language he used was particularly shocking to many people for whom only his head on a platter will do. It is hard to see the England goalkeeper Rachel Brown for instance, shaking Scudamore's hand after she branded his emails "an insult to women".

As with the Press Complaints Commission's historic failure to regulate the excesses of Fleet Street, it seems clear leaving Scudamore's fate to the Premier League clubs he works with on a daily basis is an inadequate reflex compared to employing an external and objective board of enquiry.

It was 17 club chairmen (including two women - Margaret Byrne of Sunderland and Karren Brady of West Ham) who rubber-stamped his exoneration on the basis that the sum total of all his correspondence did not find evidence of "wider discriminatory attitudes, inappropriate language or a general attitude of disrespect to women."

Brady said Scudamore was "categorically not sexist," the same Karren Brady who got into football via her advertising sales work for pornographer David Sullivan. Margaret Byrne meanwhile brushed off all the furore by saying she was "delighted common sense had prevailed."

But if English football does contain a bedrock of sexism, self-regulation is probably not the way forward in such a male-dominated sport. It would be a surprise if football, with its focus on male athletes and the masculine culture of the dressing-room had less sexism than industries employing a 50-50 balance of men and women.

Its male dominance also explains why there have been no openly gay footballers in English football, while openly lesbian players work in the women's game.

In my experience as a journalist in English football, I cannot say I have witnessed open sexism or other popular forms of discrimination in any dealings with clubs or governing bodies.

And yet there is a residual oddness about being in a workplace in which the only women one sees are office staff, cheerleaders and the occasional journalist, but never centre stage as protagonists on the field or in the dugouts.

Visit the Premier League headquarters in London's elegant Marylebone district and you are struck by the number of women employed in its offices. No wonder then that Scudamore's dinosaur language was flagged up once noticed, but how many other men in football think the same and have done so, unrepentant, for years because they have never been caught?

Some clubs are better than others at employing female press officers, who do just as good a job if not better than their male colleagues, yet press rooms are overwhelmingly male and dressing rooms completely so, which made me realise I was working amid one of the last bastions of male domination. Despite being a lifelong football fanatic, being on the inside still felt odd.

The female journalists and press officers I encountered were often more interesting as people than their male counterparts, probably because they had ploughed a more arduous and unfamiliar furrow in getting to where they were.

On the few occasions I socialised with professional footballers, I was struck by how many young women threw themselves at them, doubtless entranced by knowledge of their telephone-number salaries and possible brushes with fame. This inevitably created an unbalanced relationship between the sexes, where women happily deferred to often less intelligent men.

Thus, football's gender bias is an intrinsic absurdity. Because all the players and most of the supporters are male, men unthinkingly relate more easily to male commentators and administrators as a result and a locker-room mentality emerges too easily, a safe haven for jokes about those out of sight and mind.

But this is still 2014, wider society has moved on and soccer is not hermetically sealed from it, like it or not.

No-one is suggesting men's and women's football should merge into a co-ed sport of mixed teams, but certainly there could be more efforts to bring women into football at all levels, even if the ladies are not about to take the field alongside the lads. In every other football job, women are as capable as men.

Women in Football (WiF) is one group trying to redress the balance by promoting equal participation in all facets of the game.

Its board members include BBC commentator Jacqui Oatley, sports lawyer Jean Bevan and Chief Executive of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority Ruth Shaw, as well as Vicki Orvice, who writes for Rupert Murdoch's tabloid The Sun, which is hardly a paragon of sexual equality with its daily bare breasts.

WiF called Scudamore's words "offensive" and added, "the comments have yet again proved we are a long way from equality." According to their own survey of 1,000 women in the game, over two-thirds have witnessed sexual discrimination in their workplaces, a damning statistic for any industry in 2014.

As it stands, the dinosaurs have won the day, but the war is far from over. The F.A.'s Inclusion Advisory Board, which features former England left-back Graeme Le Saux, will be watching like a hawk. Its chair Helen Rabbatts, who spoke of a "closed culture of sexism" at the Premier League, will we are told be working more closely with the organisation to promote its equal opportunities agenda. Suffice to say, any sexist will think twice now about emailing any 'jokes' to his mates.

Rani Abraham, the woman who first leaked the emails, called the Premier League's decision to take no further action against their boss "a whitewash" which "sends out a very damaging message as to how women are regarded in football."

That the Premier League is considering suing her for accessing Scudamore's emails in the first place seems perverse, not least because she insists it was within her job description.

Ms. Abraham should rather be congratulated for shining a light into one of football's most primitive corners, an uncomfortable truth which must be confronted and which for those on the receiving end is no laughing matter.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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