Hypocrisy, moralising and football

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The Independent Online

The private life of the England football coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, is dominating the headlines of this year's silly season. Incredibly, his relationship with Faria Alam, a secretary who works for the Football Association, has even led to outraged demands that he be sacked.

The private life of the England football coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, is dominating the headlines of this year's silly season. Incredibly, his relationship with Faria Alam, a secretary who works for the Football Association, has even led to outraged demands that he be sacked.

It seems odd that the activities of an unmarried man are seen as an appropriate topic for such an excitable public debate. After all, Mr Eriksson is a football manager; he is not the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although his employers have mishandled the saga from the start, the episode has demonstrated again the astonishing immaturity and hypocrisy of the British when faced with a supposed sex scandal. We have been swamped with a tidal wave of hypocritical moralising.

As ever, of course, things are not quite as simple as they seem on the surface. There are a number of people who would like to see Mr Eriksson removed as England coach, and have used this affair as an opportunity to put pressure on him and his employers to achieve this end.

Things are complicated by money, too. In March, the FA awarded Mr Eriksson an annual salary of £4m in a contract which would retain his services up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and possibly beyond. The FA felt it had to offer him such a hefty wage to prevent him from taking up job offers elsewhere, but England's performance in this summer's European Championship makes Mr Eriksson look overvalued, and raises questions about the FA's judgement. The FA also realises that, if it were to now sack Mr Eriksson, it could be forced to pay out £14m in compensation. It will, of course, use every trick in the book to avoid doing so.

Reneging on this deal would not only be unfair, but also would serve to drag the reputation of English football further into the mud. The Football Association must either honour the agreement it made with the England manager or pay the price for breaking it. The FA ought to use a very simple calculation to decide whether or not Mr Eriksson should remain in his job. It must ask itself whether the England team, and Mr Eriksson, are performing well enough on the pitch.

Instead, with its usual incompetence and duplicity, the FA has managed to convert prurient tittle-tattle into crisis for the game. Forget the behaviour of Mr Eriksson and other senior FA executives: this is a distraction from the real problems afflicting English football and its hopeless governing body.

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