James Lawton: Lineker should look rather closer to home if he wishes to express some moral outrage
We are told that he was deeply anxious about the effect on his image of writing a column for the News of the World
Friday 08 July 2011
Am I the only one for whom Gary Lineker's late, headline intrusion into the News of the World phone-hacking suicide did not immediately put in mind St Joan of Arc going to the stake for the sake of her principles?
In many ways Lineker is of course an admirable figure. His superb career in an England shirt was a genuine example not only of brilliant scoring technique but authentic rectitude. At the sharpest end of the game he came closest to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's scoring record and with not so much as a single yellow card.
Now, we are told, he was deeply anxious about the detrimental effect on his image – and perhaps also his ability to sell potato crisps – of continuing to write a football column for the newspaper closed yesterday by owners with no stomach for the fight they had ducked for so long.
However, Lineker should perhaps understand that he was not exactly operating from a position of unimpeachable moral strength.
This conclusion is prompted by the fact that it was only last year that he resigned from another newspaper.
On that occasion it was not because the Mail on Sunday had produced a sustained assault on what most rational human beings, including no doubt many highly professional and self-respecting employees of the News of the World, would consider common decency but for compromising his position as an ambassador for England's inglorious failure to host the 2018 World Cup.
Lineker's main complaint was that by revealing the relationship of former FA chairman Lord Triesman with a younger woman, and more significantly his belief that the Fifa bidding process was riddled with corruption, was unpatriotic.
As a key member of the bidding team, Lineker said he could no longer be associated with the paper.
This brings us to the core of the Fifa scandal – and reminds us of the less than overwhelmingly approving reaction to the FA's sudden emergence as the advocates for root and branch reform of the world governing body. As long as the FA bid remained in the water, all attempts by the media to expose the rottenness of the bidding process were deemed to be against the national interest.
With his resignation from the Mail on Sunday, Lineker became more than merely complicit in such compromise. He became an active supporter of what amounted to a suppression of the truth. This did not make him a conspicuously valuable contributor to the agonising that brought yesterday's closure of the News of the World. Nor, it has to be said, does the often anodyne coverage of football and all its ills by the flagship "Match of the Day" programme for which Lineker has so long been the face and most high-profile spokesman.
There are many vantage points from which to view and criticise the nation's moral equilibrium, but with each frenzied day of close-season transfer manoeuvring, when the pursuit of new riches makes the concept of loyalty increasingly redundant, professional football is maybe not one of them. This concern is obviously re-doubled when set against the continuing miasma of what passes for Fifa administration.
Gary Lineker of course had the right, and some might say a luxury drawn from a highly successful career, to choose his part-time employers. This is not quite the same, however, as appointing oneself as some arbiter of what is right and wrong.
Whatever the weight of his presence a man has every right to protect his image but perhaps not entirely on his own carefully selected terms. Now the News of the World has gone, along with the sports pages Lineker quite recently declared were the best in all of journalism, he may just reflect on something his critics sometimes accuse him of overlooking.
It is that there is plenty of scope for the expression of moral outrage in Gary Lineker's licence-fee funded £1.5m-a-year day job.
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