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Mind Your Language!

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When I was part of England’s bid to win the right to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, one of the elements we knew we had to overcome was the world’s perception that, as a nation, the English are arrogant.

It’s irrelevant whether it was justified or not because the issue was very real. I remember FIFA President Sepp Blatter wasting no opportunity during the Bid process to remind us of that global viewpoint – even if he always did it with it a smile on his face to suggest it was ‘just a joke’.

So excuse me if I’m a little sensitive, but why on earth have England’s rugby union and cricket moguls fuelled that fire with outpourings of hubris that are embarrassing, unnecessary and frankly unhelpful to any sporting official who will, at some point tour the world waving our flag?

I’m all for a bit of realism, but choose your language carefully! The results of the press interviews were a headline writer’s dream.

England’s rugby boys have just finished second in the 6 Nations Championship on points difference. Of course I would have loved us to have won the title but falling short by the shortest of margins was disappointing rather than catastrophic. England are making perceptible improvement under Stuart Lancaster, but the reported reaction from RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie was that finishing second was ‘unacceptable’.

Certainly, some of the stories have put his message into context by recording Mr. Ritchie’s point as a reflection of a longer running disappointment and also as a Call To Arms in the build up to the World Cup. But why use the word ‘ unacceptable’? 12 letters destined for a headline and the first paragraph, by which time the later related context is all but ignored by readers ready to pass judgement in their instant world.

Meanwhile, incoming ECB Chief Executive Colin Graves has said there’ll be “some enquires” if England’s cricketers don’t beat “mediocre” West Indies in the forthcoming Test series.

“I’d certainly be disappointed if we don’t win the West Indies series, because I am pretty sure the West Indies are going to have a mediocre team,” Graves told BBC Radio Leeds. “A lot of their stars are going to be playing in the Indian Premier League anyway, not in the Tests, so we should win that series.”If we don’t win, I can tell you now there will be some enquiries of why we haven’t.”

I admire strong leadership and I applaud the desire to succeed but surely, in a modern world where opinions are expected to extend to a maximum of 140 characters at the expense of 600 word ‘think’ pieces’, more thought should be given to the minutiae of a statement or comment? In today’s media world, you can’t just turn up for an interview or press conference and trust the outcome to passion, a bit of luck and the benevolence of the reader. Well you can, but….

I am quite sure Ian Ritchie and Colin Graves were well intentioned. Theirs were striking pronouncements aimed at rallying the sporting nation and convincing the doubters that the English ARE interested in winning and definitely not satisfied with forever being plucky losers. (Ask my mates on the Bid team. We hated it and still do…)

But think about the tone and language of the RFU and ECB messages and then think about how the first few defining words of the subsequent stories would have been interpreted in different parts of the world….

Perhaps Sepp was right?

England FC. Do we REALLY care?

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So, after a narrow win over Norway and a mediocre performance to go with it, what do we REALLY think of the England team?

The morning after the night before shows the media full of headlines and soundbites reflecting mediocrity, apathy and a set up that’s a million miles away from where English fans have always thought we should be – competing with the best.

Without doubt, it’s hard to criticise the coverage but equally, it’s unfair to criticise those who’s mandate is to shape an international pedigree from a domestic mongrel.

It amazes me how we glory in the arrival of players such as Falcao, Ballotelli and di Maria to our shores, then moan about under-achieving England when the line up includes players who aren’t regular starters for their clubs!

As an isolated competition, the brilliant English Premier League thrives on genuinely talented foreign imports. These stars confirm the league’s status as a globally marketable product and pretty much guarantee that the billions keep rolling in from the commercial stakeholders. In turn, the clubs are happy with their slice of the massive commercial cake and the administrators at the Premier League faithfully observe the requirement to carry on serving up the deals that pay for the stars. Q.E.D.

The problem is, it’s a formula which doesn’t breed domestic talent in the number or quality that it should. When I was small, (those who know me will say I still am) players earned a coveted place in the national squad after several seasons learning and excelling in domestic football. Now, the babies are thrust into the limelight after 5 minutes. John Stones? Calum Chambers? I’m not suggesting they’re bad players, they’re merely the innocent ‘victims’. So what’s a manager to do?


Roy Hodgson’s options are restricted by the global success of England’s own domestic league

Please don’t blame Roy Hodgson, blame the system.

 These days when England play, most of us – me included – bemoan the lack of passion, intensity, talent and dominance of our national side.

Then, before you can blink, we start looking at the fixture list for our favourite club team’s next fixture because the truth is, we feel hard done by that international footie has ruined a couple of domestic weekends.

I’m not sure as fans, we really care deeply enough, or long enough about our national side any more to deserve a successful England team?

So I reckon the chances are that as a fan, you’re amongst the massive majority who’ve moaned about England yet still despise the fact that when the national team plays, there’s no club game to go to or no league match to watch in the pub on a Sunday afternoon.

To hell with the England team…. Until next time.

English football will eat itself until it cooks up something different.

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So England are out of the FIFA World Cup and the post-mortem is already encompassing all the usual areas. Well, opinions and problem solving are not the exclusive province of a Henry Winter or a Charlie Sale, but as I’m the one who’s always right, here’s mine..

If we really want to crack it at world level, it’s about time English football started listening. I bet there are a string of PR and marketing people reading this who will have been (politely) rebuffed by the industry in some way in the past. That may sound like a strange place to start when others are talking about systems, players and grassroots coaching (oh, those barefoot kids in Brazil are so talented.. How DO they do it?) but English football is such an insular industry I truly fear it will never learn.

English football has a ‘we know best’ attitude and it needs to check itself out. There’s no doubt the game in England is full of talented, intelligent administrators, coaches and (yes honestly) English footballers but these days our nation’s football pedigree is driven by a product so beautifully produced, the rest of the world benefits more than we do. It’s called the Premier League and international superstars clamour to play in it, tempted by the riches of the world’s best and most competitive domestic league competition. We swoon over the talent of Luis Suarez and then consider him disrespectful when he bites the hand that feeds him. During a long domestic season, we sit back and admire; we never sit on the edge of our seat and learn.

Somewhere in the system there’s a blockage and it’s one even FIFA and Sepp Blater doesn’t like. We’re too…. English. We’re a nation that lives on past glory and expects the world to empathise.

As fans we believe that 1966 still gives us a divine right. As aficionados we believe that because the world’s oldest football rule book belonged to Sheffield FC,  and the world’s oldest league club plays in Nottingham (Notts County) we ‘own’ the game. And as patriots we believe that bellowing out the national anthem and waving a St. George’s flag on the international stage every couple of years, is a signal for the rest of the world to love us. They don’t.

Sepp Blatter made constant, stinging references to England being; “the home of football” during our World Cup Bid and he made it very clear that each and every time he said it, the words were anything but a compliment. Football in England is an inward looking industry and those in charge of the game itself must open up the closed shop. It’s an industry where those on the inside reckon they know all the answers and those on the outside know nothing.

At some point, football will have told those PR and marketing people I mentioned at the start: ‘We can handle it from here, but thanks for the thought.’ I’ll wager that in most cases the people politely told to go away can point to a project that only got half done – or didn’t get done at all.

Football thinks it can look after itself, but it takes on too much responsibility and it won’t let others in to help. Of course the marketers aren’t going to turn Wayne Rooney chances into Wayne Rooney goals, but you get my drift. The malaise is endemic. ‘We know best and if we’re going to fail, we’re going to fail OUR way.”

At this point, I should remind those who don’t know, that I was once a part of football’s insular brigade – and equally guilty. So this is not a pious overview from a perfect mind, it’s just that on the outside looking in, it’s much, much easier to see.

These days, I’m just a fan, but as fans, we’re guilty too. In a couple of months time, the World Cup will be a distant, uncomfortable memory. We’ll return to our domestic caves, focus on our own teams, won’t care a jot about the national game and be irritated by the next international break because it spoils the club calendar. (Don’t you just hate it when your team doesn’t play for a fortnight?)

Every two years, when the Euros or World Cup comes around, we’ll unfurl our flags of St. George, beat our chests again with a fervour that attempts to make up for two year’s worth of domestic hibernation, expect the world to love us and demand that the team rules the world. Most of the countries we lose to will include players we’ve welcomed into our club system as heroes and the world will chuckle inwardly at our self pity when it all goes t*ts up.

Then again, they’re all fools. We’re England. We know best.

Is the Sunday Times actually digging FIFA & Sepp Blatter OUT of a hole?

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The exhaustive exposé from the Sunday Times into alleged corruption around Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup looks like another bad day at the office for FIFA President Sepp Blatter.. But is it?

Could this actually be an opportunity for the man who, only last month, admitted that selecting Qatar in the first place was a ‘mistake’?

On the face of it, the eleven pages of coverage appear to add insult to the scars suffered by both FIFA and Blatter since decision day, but what if these revelations were the consequence of some ingenious positioning from Sepp Blatter himself?

Before I go any further, I should say this is all conspiracy theory from what is clearly a warped mind, but think about it. FIFA have been ridiculed for the decision to select Qatar from the moment the envelope was opened. The technical report delivered to – and supposedly read by – the Executive Committee members who voted, said something to the effect that the temperature in Qatar in the summer months meant there was a serious health risk for both the players and the fans.*

The weather is ridiculous, the country itself has no football tradition or heritage, but it does have plenty of money.

The decision is clearly wrong on so many levels and now Blatter has admitted it. But FIFA can’t take the tournament away from Qatar just because they now concede their supposedly democratic voting process resulted in the wrong choice. There has to be a valid, watertight reason and now, FIFA and Sepp Blatter potentially have one, courtesy it seems, of the Sunday Times.

So where did the newspaper get their information from? We can, of course, only speculate, but whoever leaked the; “bombshell cache of hundreds of millions of documents” there’s a strong case that FIFA could now use it to rid themselves of their ‘mistake.’ How ironic it would be if Sepp Blatter, the man who vilified the British media at every opportunity during the bidding process was now able to use the type of information he so openly despised, to his own advantage.

What’s also interesting is that the Sunday Times is planning more revelations “in the coming weeks” while Michael Garcia, the man leading the FIFA investigation into the bidding process for both 2018 AND 2022 has said his work will be completed by next week. So does that mean Garcia is already in possession of the information? If not, how could you possibly attempt to conclude such an enquiry with explosive content still to be revealed? But if he DOES have the information, where did he get it from because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be the Sunday Times.

So currently we have Blatter admitting FIFA’s “mistake” a month ago, The Sunday Times now in mid-stream with their World Exclusive and a FIFA investigation about to be concluded after Garcia’s meeting this week with Qatari officials. For a cynical PR person, it’s an interesting narrative before what could just be an unprecedented decision to strip Qatar of it’s hosting rights. How neat.

And who gets to benefit? Why Sepp does of course! As President, he takes pride in seeing democracy at work and when it doesn’t, he steps in with vigour and determination just like all legendary leaders do. The man who critics say has never taken allegations of bribery seriously enough, can show who’s boss and make a one-man stand against corruption across world football. And all this just before he officially confirms his intention to stand for re-election next year.

It’s an interesting theory and the story will, as they say, run and run. But I must apologise for my overall cynicism. It’s so deep seated, none of this could possibly be true….

* By the way, the report on Russia said their transport infrastructure was unsatisfactory. That was apparently overlooked too.


Is the English F.A. football’s ‘Aunt Sally’ yet again?

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The fact that Sport England withdrew grassroots funding from the English Football Association was always destined to make headlines. The sad fact is the responses they attracted from supporters highlighted the public’s general misconception when it comes to understanding the wheels of football finance. It meant the F.A.  were given both barrels when it could and should have been so different.
Sport England’s decision to re-direct £1.6 million elsewhere, was taken because the F.A’s grassroots programme had failed to hit targets on adult participation levels. The subsequent reporting drew message board responses from fans who clearly thought a game so awash with money shouldn’t have been given anything in the first place. For them football is one, unified sport. It receives billions from partnership and sponsorship agreements and pays huge wages to its players, so it should look after itself. One sport, one pot. If only it were that simple, but fans remain blissfully unaware because they rarely get told.
The F.A.’s media response from General Secretary, Alex Horne was suitably measured and dignified, but perhaps it’s now time to educate the audience a little more? Of course it won’t make any difference to Sport England’s current position, but I fear the the recent reaction shows that the F.A. remains as misunderstood as ever.
Without doubt, the Premier League is a wonderful product that is expertly guided and richly funded. Sponsors and partners clearly value their association with such a global ‘brand’. The Premier League represents the sexy, exciting side of the English game and it does so incredibly well. On the other hand, the not-for-profit Football Association, is an organisation with a rather more mundane remit. Its regular diet is drab administration, heavily scrutinised disciplinary procedures and a grassroots strategy that is clearly misconstrued by the public because they think everything is – or should be – paid for from a single pot. In the case of Grassroots, it isn’t.
These days, just about the only occasions when the F.A. is able to publicly preen itself are the F.A. Cup and England internationals but even then, when either interjects midway through a much vaunted league campaign, they’re indirectly criticised for putting a temporary stop to everyone’s fun.
In general terms, the grassroots work the FA does reflects its responsibilities as a governing body and the structural reasons for Sport England’s provision of funds to a football project is a message that clearly isn’t getting through. So the reality of what the F.A. actually does at grassroots level is being skewed by the size of Wayne Rooney’s wage packet, billionaire owners and mega broadcast contracts. Surely it needs addressing?
Last December, the F.A. staged the national finals of the F.A. Fives. This was a year-long competition which began with over 2,000 amateur teams competing at local and regional level across the country. The prize was the chance to earn the right to play at Wembley and ultimately become national champions in one of four categories. Final’s day brought 300 lucky men and women players to the National Stadium and Wembley’s famous pitch was filled by eight, self-contained five-a-side pitches. These were used simultaneously for the group matches and an extremely well managed and administered event created a spectacle of energy, enthusiasm and excitement.
And this is where, in my view, the F.A. isn’t doing itself justice in highlighting its role within the game’s structure because here was obvious evidence of a deep grassroots strategy, presided over by skilled administrators that gets right to the heart of the community in promoting participation in football. It should have been seen as a wonderfully visible example of the work the F.A. does but publicity seemed a bit of an afterthought.
In fairness, it’s certainly not always straightforward to tell the story. One example of how the F.A. is up against it when the rest of the world thinks it is constantly in bed with its sexier Premier League partner, was evident in the event’s build up.
Apparently, the BBC Match Of The Day’s community feature, which airs on the Sunday morning re-run, is a platform that’s not available to the F.A. to utilise. When an approach was made to discuss the possibility of spending a day at the F.A. Fives and report on the culmination of this nationwide community tournament, the response was that it wasn’t possible because the slot was reserved exclusively for Premier League initiatives and those of its member clubs. I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, I’m merely highlighting an example of the different levels that operate within what the public sees as one industry.
It’s possible of course, that Sport England may have used football as a vehicle for headlines and profile raising with their announcement because other sports, such as rugby union and cricket were down on participation numbers too but they didn’t receive a financial penalty.
So, has football been viewed as the easiest and most efficient ‘Aunt Sally’ for a public relations’ point scoring exercise? If so – and not for the first time – when it comes to looking at the two ends of football’s stick, the F.A. appear to have got the dirty end.



Hull City Or Hull Tigers? Could The Whole Public Rumpus Have Been Avoided?

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In an industry where football clubs are used to spending millions of pounds on (allegedly) two good feet, why do they continually insist on shooting themselves in one of their own? Why is PR and communications seemingly so low on the priority list for some and why can they not see it? It astounds me.
Hull City Football Club’s owner, unilaterally decided that for commercial reasons, he wanted to change the club’s name from Hull City to Hull Tigers and he announced his intention to an unsuspecting world last year. Since then, the argument has raged on the back pages, the airwaves and of course, social media and now, a fans’ group appears to have protested so cogently about the retention of tradition that the English Football Association’s Membership Committee is set to reject the name change application.
The whole situation is doing the club no favours and a reasonably straightforward consideration has publicly descended into vitriol, tension and a complete mess. Why?
If you own something, you control it’s destiny and you can do with it what you like, right? Well no, of course it’s not right and it’s not just the fractious world of football that has to contend with a democratic world. Too often, the runaway train isn’t seen until it’s too late and the Hull City saga re-enforces my belief there are still those in the game who believe that PR people aren’t supposed to have an opinion – or at least aren’t invited to share it if they have.
Instead, PR representatives are there to look at the facts and consider how best to dutifully present the argument on behalf of whoever is paying the bill. Never mind the consequences, the client’s word is final.
There are fundamental questions that surround the whole Hull City story: Did anyone sit down, look at the facts and put them in a specific and strategic order BEFORE anyone opened their mouth? Did they not think consultation or research might be an opening gambit? Did they not consider there might be a backlash? Or did they feel they could just steamroller opinion and do what they wanted? Hull’s owner, Assem Allam has invested his own money into Hull City and for that, he deserves respect. Consequently, he clearly feels he has the right to do what he likes with HIS football club.
On the other hand, I own my house, but if I wanted to make alterations which potentially affected the neighbours, I’d have to get permission because it’s on a street where rules and regulations apply. To smooth its passage, I’d have to court opinion, state my case, be nice to the odd neighbour or two and attempt to create an environment where people might eventually see it my way. It’s no different when it comes to owning and running a football club. Is it?
In Hull’s case, their entire commercial proposition (house) revolves around the fact that the club plays competitive football in an organised league. (street) The league has rules and when you sign up to play, (move in) you’re committed to abide by them. If you don’t like them, go and play on another street. (buy a tent)
Of course, from Hull’s perspective, there isn’t another street to play on so they must live by the only rules on offer.
And surely that’s the PR point in this whole saga? It looks like no-one sought to look at the rules, consider the neighbours and come up with a plan. The result has been criticism, protest and a reputational problem for Mr. Allam that will take ages to repair.
In the days of 24/7 media coverage, a cogent, professional PR strategy is essential. For multi million pound international companies in other sectors it’s a matter of course. So why not across the whole of football? When the stakes are high and the rewards so potentially lavish, why are club press offices in certain parts of the land filled with willing people who are merely told what to do rather than asked what they think?
Let me be clear that this doesn’t apply to ALL clubs or ALL owners, but the fact remains that being bludgeoned into submission by a bloke who owns the club isn’t going to work. Buying a football club, doesn’t automatically infuse an individual with a miraculous ability to have all the answers and in any other international business these days, there are teams of people advising the decision makers. I fail to understand why some club owners think they don’t need advice or don’t need to consider an alternative view before speaking. They might have broad shoulders themselves, but the reputation of the club is at stake too.
I find it mildly ironic that Hull’s issue is about a name change that would incorporate the club’s long standing and accepted nickname. Surely there could have been a way to position the argument more appropriately? The FA have said they would consult with the fans. Isn’t that something Mr. Allam might have been wise to consider? I assume no-one felt in a position to suggest it to him.
I am glad the FA looks set to reject Hull’s name change application. Not because I necessarily believe the request to be wrong, but because I believe the process that’s been applied is wrong.
In reality, many of the new breed of football club owners have actually injected powerful life into ailing clubs. But why do some insist on treading a path which turns a happy story of football philanthropy, into a mis-managed horror show?

How Newcastle Did Right from Alan Pardew’s Wrong

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Rightly or wrongly, football clubs are regularly criticised for how they handle their media relations and general PR (or in some cases don’t) but there will be more than a few who will have had sympathy for Newcastle United’s comms team at the weekend.
Alan Pardew’s astonishing touchline behaviour at Hull on Saturday, put the club on instant alert. Here was the indefensible being starkly played out in front of a bank of in-stadium cameras and literally millions of people.
For the few who haven’t seen it, (surely you have?) Pardew lost his temper with an opposing player while standing in the pitch side Technical Area. There was a short explosive exchange, and Pardew aimed a head butt in the player’s direction. To put it mildly, it is something a football manager just does not do…
Back in the Sky Sports studios, the reaction was instant. Jeff Stelling went red with incredulity and such was the shock of this unprecedented moment, Paul Merson didn’t know whether to laugh or criticise. Within seconds of Pardew recoiling from split-second madness, the airwaves, wire services and internet were awash with description and easy-to-predict judgement.
Clearly this was no time for Newcastle to sit and watch the story unfold, nor to meekly suggest to the media that the team’s satisfying 4-1 away win was really what the headlines should be about. Newcastle needed to ‘own’ the story or get drowned in a sea of reaction they had absolutely no chance of challenging. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Unlike so many post-match occasions when managers and players have hidden away in the sanctity of the dressing room after a bout of inglorious action, Pardew was out doing the only thing he could possibly do in the circumstances. He was apologising to anyone and everyone and publicly admonishing himself. Whether it was the result of persuasion from the comms team or a self-motivated decision is irrelevant here, because this was an illustration of chucking yourself right into the heart of the debate to ensure one-dimensional Pardew and Newcastle baiting was tempered by contrition on a plate.
You could argue of course, there was simply nothing else they could do, but think hard enough and I’m convinced you’ll remember moments when a called-for crisis strategy failed to even start let alone fall at the first hurdle.
Newcastle followed up later in the evening with an announcement of a formal warning and a massive fine. It was action that threw another layer into the mix reasonably swiftly and shoved the act itself even further down the pipe. The League Manager’s Association helped with that too by reflecting embarrassment and unrestricted criticism of one of their own members and by the time Saturday evening was moving into Sunday morning, Newcastle had made sure they were on the same merry-go-round as everybody else.
So what now? The FA’s investigators will no doubt appreciate Newcastle’s pro-active approach even if it doesn’t lessen the severity of the punishment they hand down as the governing body but as the FA considers its move, is there a place for further general story management from within Newcastle United?
Should Pardew, who has a history of touchline indiscretions of varying severity, undertake an anger management course? Should he re-affirm his intention to sit down and keep out of trouble in future by announcing that he’ll go one step further and watch all future games from the Director’s Box? And if that’s the case, perhaps Newcastle United might even announce it as a pre-requisite of his continued employment?
Newcastle legend Alan Shearer has suggested resignation as an option for Pardew but if that isn’t to be the next course of action, the Newcastle boss must surely now attempt to publicly re-assert authority and credibility. If he doesn’t, what happens the next time one of his players does something stupid on the pitch?
Stage one for Team Toon was to publicly reflect the manager’s genuine remorse and the club’s unmistakable intolerance. Stage two must surely be to regain the ground lost when it comes to the manager’s authority over his players but even then, he’ll still have to wait for the FA’s late and inevitable kick in the guts for being a prat.
From the moment, forehead flicked forehead, it all became a damage limitation exercise within a completely indefensible situation and Newcastle United had to move to put their own stake in the ground the moment the game was over. This was a story that could only really be handled in one way, but it is a wider illustration of how ANY crisis should be handled by those in the firing line. In public circles, the ‘ostrich approach’ is all too prevalent at times and if there is one thing the whole of football can take from the weekend events, it’s that whatever the severity of the issue at hand, pretending it isn’t happening is not an option.

Video replays and impeccable refs. Football’s new era?

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Ok, so it might not be quite as clear cut as the headline suggests, but you can’t blame a bloke for trying to wrestle your interest.

On March 1st, the International FA Board gathers in Zurich for their annual meeting and for once, it’ll be an item under ’Any Other Business’ that will get media juices flowing like no other. ‘Video replays for match officials’ is to be debated by a board made up of representatives from FIFA and the four British associations and frankly, it’s not before time.

As someone involved in sport and football for most if his life, I have to admit it’s become increasingly difficult to communicate a convincing reason to non-football mates (yes, they do exist) for why football lags way-behind the likes of rugby when it comes to the use of video technology. The current 6 Nations Championship is once again proving to be more entertaining for the interjections of the Video Ref – and the final result is all the more accurate because of it. So why not in football?

I’ve always argued that football is a much more fluid game and it’s more difficult to find the right moment to consult the screens. For example, picture this. There are 70,000 partisan supporters roaring on the home team in a vociferous local derby. Let’s call them Manchester United.

The ‘noisy neighbours’ are on the attack but their star striker is tackled on the edge of the box. ‘No foul’ says the ref and play continues. The team we shall call ‘Manchester United’ goes straight up the other end and, without the ball going out of play, they score. Only for the video ref to rule that the challenge 15 seconds ago WAS a foul so it’s actually a free kick on the edge of the box at the other end.

Cue mayhem. Why bother banning alcohol in the stands if you’re going to give ‘em replays?

I’m sure some of you will be suggesting that the video ref would only make a judgement call if asked by the match referee, as is the case in rugby. It’s a valid point. Of course the referee cannot be compromised by being unilaterally over ruled through unsolicited judgement. BUT…

When the titles roll on the first highlights programme of the weekend and a tackle that the video referee would surely have called as a foul is shown to have gone unpunished, do we really think the pundits will be told to tone down their comments? We all know the answer to that one because it doesn’t happen now and whether we like it or not, football, its officials and its players are under more scrutiny than in any other sport.

My point is that in football it will undoubtedly be harder to strike the right balance between letting a game flow and using technology for the overall good, but I do concede that it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Zurich’s nod towards ‘any other business’ next month isn’t, of course, going to proffer a definitive outcome on the day, but it will undoubtedly open the floodgates for debate. When that happens, the power of modern day communication will mean the fans, the press and anyone in between will not let go until they’ve shaken out a decision they can dissect at leisure. It had better be the right one.

The UEFA President, Michel Platini, has already warned that the advent of goal line technology was merely the first step towards the inevitable and I’m sure he’ll take no pleasure in telling everybody at some point that he was right. There’s a lot of water to flow under this particular ‘pont’ before Monsieur Platini can remind us of his powers but the trickle will start in Zurich  when the administrators who will no doubt be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, open up a very large can of worms.

Surely video replays have got to be a part of the future? Well perhaps there’s an argument that suggests that when even the TV pundits can’t agree after seeing a tackle from every conceivable angle, there’s little hope for one person stuck in a sweaty cubicle during the heat of battle.

Football’s on-pitch decision making is generally a much more subjective art than in rugby or cricket and I genuinely don’t envy those who’ll make the ultimate decision on where to draw the line for video replays. An unstoppable mix of the power of ‘progress’ and the public’s perception that utopia is just around the corner, is destined to make it happen, but if they don’t get it right, there will still be weekend arguments down the pub – it’s just that they’ll be a little more complicated.


Working with an ex-doper on an anti-doping campaign

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Working in PR always throws up intriguing events, activities and outcomes and one of PRM’s latest projects is right up there with the best of them.


Skins’ Pure Sport campaign hit 6 countries in 6 weeks
Existing client, SKINS produces internationally recognised sports compression wear and the company’s Chairman, Jaimie Fuller has a long history of championing the basic values of sporting integrity through the brand. Jaimie has gained a swift reputation for challenging sports’ decision-makers when they fall short of expectation and the players and athletes for on-field and in-play cheating. As a global corporate player and sporting sponsor, Jaimie is a fervent believer that his brand should defend ‘The Spirit of True Competition’ by promoting clean and fair sport available to all. 
So with Jaimie at the forefront, SKINS decided to launch an anti-doping campaign called ChooseTheRightTrack which featured former Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson as its leading ambassador. It’s a project which calls for a drastic overhaul of world sport’s anti-doping programme and with three main points in it’s global campaign, ChooseTheRightTrack is targeting radical change.
SKINS say the IOC must act to eradicate doping in sport. They must support the athletes and bridge a communications gap that has existed for generations between administrators and athletes. The campaign also proposes that the World Anti-Dpoping Agency (WADA) should have a mandate for independence and a realistic annual budget and further suggests that a Truth & Reconciliation style approach should be available for sports who need it.
The three points have been specifically presented like this:
  1. WADA must have a transparent, unambiguous mandate that provides independence to its activities and adequate funding to effectively implement the code, free from political interference.
  2. An Athlete’s Support Council (ASC) reporting to WADA must be established to support, educate and offer whistle blowing services to athletes and bridge the cultural gap and mistrust that exists between the administrators and the athletes.
  3. A Truth & Reconciliation type process must be initiated to allow certain sports (immediately starting with Cycling) to break the doping culture chain and give access to a level of intelligence that can only be enjoyed through maximum cooperation from current and ex dopers.

Of course there have been many initiatives championing a topic which seems to have endless discussion potential, but apart from the three definitive and strenuous core principles, this one also features a real twist with they inclusion of Ben, who’s acknowledged as the most famous sporting doper in the history of sport. Ben tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) after ‘winning’ the 100 metres final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. He was subsequently disqualified and  has lived to regret his decision to cheat ever since.

When I first met him to discuss the project on behalf of SKINS in Frankfurt, I was impressed with how genuine he was in admitting his mistakes. Here was a man who, for 25 years, has been vilified and – in my opinion – misunderstood. The 25th anniversary of that race and the potential campaign was a perfect opportunity to confirm the level of atonement Ben has apparently failed to realise previously. For me, there was one important element to this sudden burst of potential visibility. Ben wasn’t going to be paid by SKINS for his part in the campaign. They were picking up the expenses – nothing more – for a trip around the world to promote a campaign the company and it’s Chairman passionately believed in and that Ben was committed to supporting. There was a natural and mutual narrative.
From a PR perspective, non-payment was an important fact because the cynicism of the media – particularly in the UK – would have rendered the campaign beaten before it began. It would’ve been perfectly understandable for the press and the public to say that Ben was prepared to say anything for a pay cheque, but here we were with a man who’s involvement was based on commitment rather than finance and an anti-doping campaign had a great frontman.
So why would Ben want to do such a thing? Well, after 25 years, his life has clearly changed. He is adamant that taking PEDs was the biggest mistake of his life. He accepts full responsibility for the decisions he made – even if he was cajoled by others – and now wants others to heed the warning. Doping has ruined Ben’s life and 25 years ago, he had no-one to turn to when the option was offered. The campaign’s Athlete Support Council covers that area and although it clearly doesn’t guarantee consistent success, it is a proposal that would represent a massive step forward. Another motivating factor is that Ben is now a grandfather and 8 year-old Micaila is the apple of his eye. Now that she’s showing a genuine interest in track and field herself, he doesn’t want her growing up thinking her Granddad is no better than a cheat and SKINS provided an opportunity to do something about it on a credible platform he believed was right. 
At the time of writing, Ben has spoken in the UK, Canada and the USA with Australia, Japan and Seoul to come on the campaign’s world tour. In Seoul he’ll re-visit the stadium where he took part in the 100 metres final they now call ‘the dirtiest race in history’ and he’ll walk out onto the track at the exact moment that it all happened, 25 years ago. 
So far, the SKINS campaign has been embraced by just about all who have received it to the extent you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Ben, whose natural shyness sometimes masks his determination, has proved a credible and eminently believable frontman. Putting the programme together has been fun and tough in equal measure and for PRM it’s a privilege to be involved.
If you want to learn more about the campaign and it’s objectives, click here