Even in football, morality has gone bonkers

Even in football, morality has gone bonkers

Forgive me if anything I am about to say, write, or imply offends anyone, in any way.

The day is looming when voicing an opinion, in public or in private, should carry a disclaimer such as the "Smoking can cause a slow and painful death" warning on a cigarette package.

Sports have always been - and will continue to be - emotive unless we choke off the expression of joy, sadness, nationalism or simply the "my team is better than yours" loudness around the stadiums.

Think of it. Singapore is winning a game against one of the giants of world sport, but there is no sound in the Sports Hub. It has been outlawed by the politically correct police. Sterilised.

There, I've crossed a line already. It is no longer politically correct to criticise political correctness.

Is that where we want to go?

I write on the morning after the BBC main news in Britain condemned football for losing its moral compass.

Three stories lead to this conclusion. There is the Fifa corruption saga that worsens by the week. There is Wigan Athletic hiring a manager whose texts to a colleague used racially offensive remarks.

And there is the Internet campaign that forced Sheffield United to retract their invitation to allow Ched Evans, a former player who had served a prison term for rape, to train at the club.

That is train while his appeal to a higher court that he was wrongfully imprisoned in the first place is being processed.

Evans claims, still, that he had consensual sex with a woman in a hotel room. He was nevertheless convicted on grounds that the victim was too drunk to consent.

Wherever we stand on the morality of what he said or she said, and whatever the outcome of his appeal, he has lost the right of most ex-cons to resume earning his living.

That right is denied him in the court of popular opinion. Politicians, protest groups, sponsors and public figures do not want him back in the limelight.

They include Jessica Ennis-Hill, the star athlete who drew high praise for stating that if Ched Evans returns, she will not allow Sheffield United to continue naming a stand in her honour.

This is not easy on anyone's conscience. A judge and jury convicted Evans and the public now is determining that the sentence served was insufficient.

He remains, in part because he shows no contrition, ostracised by society.

The rationale is that sport is different, and that a footballer has such a hold on the minds of young people that there is no room for atonement or forgiveness.

Read the first sentence of this column again. Please don't think that I consider rape acceptable, or that I fail to grasp that a moral obligation comes with fame. But where is the line to be drawn?

Right now, Dave Whelan is another man in the dock of public opinion.

Whelan turned his worst sporting moment, a broken leg in the 1960 FA Cup final, into a self-made fortune in retailing, and sank part of that into putting the small town of Wigan on the map in football and rugby league.

He is a straight-talking, sometimes archetypal northerner of 77 who is time-locked in an age when workers went to the pub on a Saturday and then cheered on the local team.

Sometimes parochial, he is often contemptuous of the belief that English clubs must have a sheikh, an oligarch or an American investment group as their overlords.

Whelan was in heaven when Roberto Martinez coached his team to win the Cup at Wembley two seasons ago. He struggled to replace the Spaniard who moved on to Everton, and has since fired a Scot, Owen Coyle, and a German, Uwe Rosler, who failed to sustain the shoestring success that Martinez (and Whelan) achieved.

However, Whelan's latest choice of manager has the moralists hopping.

He appointed Malky Mackay, the former manager of Cardiff City who is under FA investigation after being dismissed by Cardiff's owner Vincent Tan.

Some say that the Malaysian had to get rid of Mackay because the manager was more popular than the owner. But in the wrangle over compensation somebody leaked to the press text messages between Whelan and Cardiff's former head of recruitment, Iain Moody.

The texts included obnoxious references to "chinks", Jews and homophobes. But to become offensive, those private texts had to be made public.

The parties who leaked those texts to newspapers had their own agenda. Mackay and Moody have since been unemployable, until Whelan took a chance on Mackay this week, saying the manager made a mistake, he apologised for that and he should be allowed to work.

Alas, Whelan is now in the media dock along with his new manager. In an interview with The Guardian, he said calling someone a "chink" was no worse than calling him a Brit, or calling the Irish Paddies.

He answered the question "Do Jews chase money more than others?" with "I think they are shrewd people... we all love money."

Cue a fresh media hiatus in which Dave Whelan is now cast as a dinosaur.

There are indeed times when Mr Wigan, as he is known, is apt to use offensive terminology. Or rather old-fashioned terminology that has become offensive in the modern world.

What I find also offensive is the new morality of the messengers.

The BBC should be careful of what it expects of football. This is the same corporation that apparently prevented an expose by its own flagship investigative programme into Jimmy Saville.

Saville, now dead, was a monster who for years used his fame as a disc jockey to sexually abuse women and children under the cover of his BBC celebrity.

Morality begins at home.


This article was first published on November 22, 2014.
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