The Last Word: Richard Scudamore's big mistake
For such a consummate politician Scudamore has failed to appreciate the momentum of debate over his comments. It is a rare misjudgement
Saturday 17 May 2014
The FA grandee was a knight of the realm, a product of polite society, deeply ingrained privilege and supposedly Corinthian values. He was also a bitter, vengeful man notorious for goosing air stewardesses on flights ferrying the England team around the world.
Sadly, he is no longer with us. Little is served by naming him, and his great good fortune was to come from a generation of football administrators who avoided the scrutiny that threatens to consume Richard Scudamore and leaves his fiefdom, the Premier League, in unaccustomed crisis.
The Head Boy of the billionaires’ ball club is trapped in a perfect storm of opprobrium. Accusations of sexism, at a time when women’s sport is gaining long-overdue recognition and the equality agenda is paramount, are calamitous.
Why should we be so diverted by a 54-year-old businessman who behaves with the puerility of a 14-year-old schoolboy? Scudamore, developer of a global sporting phenomenon, will not appreciate the irony that he may become an unintended victim of the culture he helped to create.
Access to athletes has never been more selective or commercially driven, so the modern media, whose need for content has never been greater, are in thrall to sport’s powerbrokers. Men in suits suddenly possess a patina of celebrity and become accustomed to having their image air-brushed by compliant PR departments.
When they are sufficiently indiscreet to undermine the in-house hagiographies, the fallout is bleakly predictable. The League have brought in crisis-management consultants, led by former Manchester United and Clarence House spokesman Paddy Harverson. Scudamore is set to discover the limits of influence and the hypocrisy of the corporate cull.
When links to him are deemed to sully even the toxic reputation of the League’s title sponsor, Barclays Bank, meltdown is imminent. It no longer matters that the opposition is a coalition which contains opportunists and emboldened cowards, in addition to those who have genuine reason to be offended by the double standards he represents.
For such a consummate politician, Scudamore’s response to the gathering crisis has been strangely unreconstructed. His failure to appreciate the momentum of debate, and his vulnerability to perceptions of a lack of contrition, was a rare misjudgement.
He is in danger of testing the authenticity of the 10-day rule, widely attributed to Alastair Campbell but first raised by Bill Clinton’s spin doctors. Damage is supposedly irreversible to any public figure who leads the news agenda for more than that time. A week in, Scudamore’s story still has legs.
Since survival is a murky business, any disciplinary process must be urgent, transparent and independent. There are too many conflicts of interest for him to be judged solely by the League’s audit and remuneration committee, which meets him tomorrow. They awarded his £1.9m salary, and a £2.5m four-year bonus, as a sign of gratitude for a £5.5 billion TV deal.
On Tuesday, when the FA’s Inclusion Board will doubtlessly highlight disapproval of his conduct, the Kick it Out campaign celebrates its twentieth anniversary dinner. Changing the agenda around racism is a substantial achievement, despite a familiar culture of denial in some quarters.
Women In Football, a broad-based group containing more than 1,000 women who work in the game, have a long-term opportunity to evolve into a similar campaigning body. Sexism is a social issue – superannuated simpletons can also be found on trading floors and in FTSE 100 boardrooms – but football is an important arena in directing discussion.
Scudamore has been foolish rather than malicious. On balance he is a better man than the pompous oaf who quietly terrorised the FA many moons ago. But times have changed. Losing his job may be unfair but, as those who have suffered because of his autocratic nature will attest, life is not fair.
Live by the brand, die by the brand.
Cricket must have a clear-out
Cricket is facing the sort of existential crisis which threatened to destroy professional cycling and continues to undermine athletics. Match-fixing at all levels of the game, rather than drug abuse among the elite, is the issue, but the consequence of corruption, a lack of credibility which renders competition ultimately irrelevant, is identical.
Those seeking to cleanse track and field are taking the gamble of plea bargaining with self-confessed cheats, like sprinter Tyson Gay.
Cricket has done similarly with Lou Vincent, the New Zealand batsman who has identified 12 fixed matches, but may find its greatest example in cycling. The only way it could generate trust that change was a long-term process rather than a superficial search for soothing headlines was to sweep away those who oversaw inertia.
Cricket needs to rid itself of those administrators who have conspired to make its global governing body, the ICC, opaque and politically driven. Too many of its leading figures are compromised by the suspicion they chose silence over action to protect themselves from reputational damage.
Fixers prey on the young and the desperate. If the status quo remains, they will continue to flourish.
Helpfully, the French are wasting little time in arranging their traditional World Cup fiasco. Didier Deschamps is questioning the moral standards of the press corps accompanying his team and is taking legal action against Samir Nasri’s girlfriend, who took exception to his exclusion.
While poses are being struck, Everton defender Sylvain Distin announces his retirement from the international game “after a wonderful experience and a record of 0 caps”. A self-deprecating footballer? Vive la différence.
Cup of cheer for golf hackers
Hackers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your handicap, the last vestiges of your self-esteem and the paranoia which descends when it is your turn to putt.
Hope comes in response to a global collapse in interest in golf, which involves a trial of holes with a 15 inch diameter, three times the size of a traditional cup. Pioneered on 100 courses in the United States, it cannot cross the Atlantic soon enough.
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