It has been a bad week for the reputation of the professional game. No matter what spin the broadcasters and the media put on the Premier League, a number of incidents have left a very bad taste in the mouths of many fans. Unfortunately, with those fans not being able to attend games, the clubs are simply able to treat them with contempt and do as they please without the fear of any lasting damage to their brand.
The public hounding of former England Lionesses and Amazon Sports presenter Karen Carney after her comments about Leeds United after their win against West Bromwich Albion underlined a major issue in the game. Whilst the official Leeds United account felt they were justified to stand by their comments, the club issued a contradictory statement. The online abuse received by Carney eventually led to her deleting their Twitter account.
And then we had the case of Manchester United’s Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani over one single word that he used on his Instagram. The word in question, it was argued had cultural context but the FA saw it a different way and sanctioned him severely. The FA issued the following statement: “Edinson Cavani has been suspended for three games, fined £100,000 and must complete face-to-face education after admitting a charge for a breach of FA Rule E3 in relation to a social media post on Sunday 29 November 2020.
“A comment posted on the Manchester United FC striker’s Instagram page was insulting, abusive, improper and brought the game into disrepute contrary to FA Rule E3.1. The post also constitutes an “aggravated breach”, which is defined in FA Rule E3.2, as it included reference, whether express or implied, to colour and/or race and/or ethnic origin.
“While it is clear that context and intent are key factors, we note that the independent Regulatory Commission was required to impose a minimum three-game suspension. The club trusts that the independent Regulatory Commission will make it clear in its written reasons that Edinson Cavani is not a racist, nor was there any racist intent in relation to his post.”
I’m not in favour of off the field misdermeanors being punished by match bans. If the club choose to take that action then that is fine, but it shouldn’t be for the FA to set those tariffs. We will never know if Manchester United took their own disciplinary action against the player, or even withheld his wages for the games we would be suspended for.
Whatever the right or wrongs of what Cavani did, did he break the law? Consider his sanction with that handed down to the three Spurs and one West Ham player who broke the rules,
“In tier 4 you cannot leave or be outside of the place you are living unless you have a reasonable excuse. You cannot meet other people indoors unless you live with them or they are part of your support bubble.”
A reasonable excuse does not include the fact that it was Christmas. The incident only came to light because someone mistakenly put the photo of the group and their families on Social Media, leading to some rapid apologies and hollow words being issued by clubs and players. In the next few days it transpired that players at other Premier League clubs had also broken the rules, notably at Manchester City and Crystal Palace. In the case of Man City, the club comment was that they were “disappointed” whilst at Palace the comments of the manager, Roy Hodgson suggested that the fans care more about the results than the breaches.
Football, and some footballers, believe they are above the law and should be treated differently. Football clubs have a duty of care to ensure their employees act within the rules and laws. But they don’t. Time and time again players have been allowed to effectively get away with illegal acts because they are relatively powerless. They can only fine a player two weeks wages unless there are exceptional circumstances and whilst they can terminate a contract of a player for gross misconduct, they then give up any right to “monetise” the value of the player, who could walk into any other club.
At a time when so many people have suffered through COVID-19 and not been able to see close family or friends, it is inconceivable that the offenders should be simply be let off with a slap on the wrist, or in the case of West Ham’s Lanzini, “reminded of his future conduct”. Really? Football’s reputation throughout 2020 has been so badly tarnished. For every good news story such as Marcus Rashford’s School Meals campaign, there’s the players who have defied the rules that others have to abide by. Monetary fines aren’t a deterrent to Premier League players and for the clubs, with so much money available in prize and TV money, they are too scared to suspend the players and weaken their teams.
Perhaps the players who have transgressed should receive social fines – helping out within the NHS who are so over-stretched in dealing with COVID-19 patients, seeing first hand of the suffering of patients and the stress that the NHS staff are under trying to help those who have and haven’t stuck by the rules.