Leading Article: The valuable lessons of this sorry Hoddle affair
Wednesday 03 February 1999
Hoddle should have known that any hint of controversy would be jumped on. He long ago forfeited public support, as a catalogue of incidents revealed his character for all to see - eccentric, stubborn, reckless, indiscreet. The saga over his World Cup diaries and the figure of Eileen Drewery lurking in the shadows did irreparable damage to his image. Refusing to select the supremely gifted Michael Owen and David Beckham in the first stages of the World Cup was an obvious error; it is little surprise that England's European Championship campaign has begun badly. He compounded the mistake with the publication - for some personal profit - of his World Cup diaries, which included private discussions with players.
Hoddle may feel aggrieved at the storm he provoked by an aside about the disabled, but the fact is that today no public figure can speak out without being noticed. They have a duty to act responsibly with regard to issues such as race, disability and sexuality. In that situation, his attempt to cling to his job has been misguided.
Ironically, some good has emerged from the whole affair. At least no one else was prepared to argue that the disabled were paying for sins in a past life; even Hoddle himself, once he realised the trouble he was in, tried to argue that his appalling comments had been "misconstrued". The right of the disabled to take part in society, and the social stigma attached to those who ridicule them, have gained appreciably. Another topic as unfashionable and difficult as disability - religion - has also been given a public airing. The flaws in the fashion for muddled, pick- and-mix "New Age" spiritualism have been demonstrated; everyone has been reminded that the expression of private religious beliefs must not insult other citizens.
The FA must also learn its lessons. In future, England coaches should not be permitted to sell stories to the press, one of the original sins that eroded Hoddle's support. He earns enough to have open and cordial relations with the press, as in the US, without being paid for the privilege. Indeed, it would be beneficial if such a code were to be enforced across the sport, for football has been marred by the secrecy and arrogance of too many of its functionaries. If such changes now ensue, at least the FA and football will have gained from all this. It is just a pity that, in making such gains, offence had to be caused.
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