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A case of muddled priorities and double standards

April 4, 2011

Perhaps karma has caught up with Wayne Rooney. Having avoided punishment for elbowing James McCarthy in February, he has now been charged with using insulting or offensive language, following his outburst at the nearest TV camera in the wake of his third goal on Saturday. Raphael Honigstein made the point on Twitter earlier that Rooney seems to be suffering just punishment but for the wrong crime. While this seems a fair assessment, the FA’s response to the incident elucidates once more the warped priorities of the organisation.

Swearing into a TV camera isn’t particularly nice, or indeed expected. But then Rooney’s game has always contained a fair number of cuss words. He’s never been shy of telling the referee to eff off, or expressing his opinion of an offside call in similarly earthy language. People have rightly asked why referees in general aren’t more strict; why has Rooney not been booked or sent off in the past for such verbal abuse? Some may argue that such punishment, if meted out fairly and uniformly, would lead to scores of red cards each weekend. Perhaps that would be the case, at least initially, but a failure to curb this side of Rooney’s game – surely more serious than the one under scrutiny now – makes the charge for his recent misdemeanour seem all the more absurd. Do the FA now punish all players for swearing? Or only the ones caught on camera? What about the ones who swear in a foreign language? Where does it leave the Respect Campaign – so often the subject of discussion, so rarely seen in practice – when referees can be subjected to effing and blinding without protection, but swearing at a TV camera merits a two-game ban?

Sky Sports surely have to accept some responsibility for what happened. If you are going to stick a camera in the face of a player who has just scored a hat-trick to rescue his team – a player not afraid to let rip when he is wound up – then there is surely an obvious danger that the player may say something usually reserved for a post-watershed audience. When Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona in 2009, one of Sky’s cameras followed Didier Drogba towards the tunnel after the final whistle. Viewers were left in no doubt as to the Ivorian’s views on the performance of the referee, Tom Henning Øvrebø, and Richard Keys (remember him?) was forced into an immediate on-air apology. Having discovered the dangers of thrusting a microphone towards an emotionally charged footballer two years ago, it is surprising that Sky made the same mistake twice.

Football is, of course, a very sweary sport. It happens at all levels, both on the pitch and in the stands. The game may have become more family-friendly over the past 20 years, but any parent bringing their child to the match knows what to expect. Kids will swear whether Rooney or any other professional footballer is guilty of it or not, but Manchester United’s number 10 apologised later on Saturday having either realised or been told he had overstepped the mark. Common sense said that should have been the end of the matter. Rules are rules however, and, as Rob Marrs points out, by the letter of the law Rooney’s charge is appropriate. The disappointing aspect is that it took this recent incident – rather than a match official being subjected to insulting or offensive language – for the charge to be brought.

In this respect the FA confirmed the rather arbitrary nature of the justice it doles out. Why has this charge come now? If such rules exist to protect the game’s public image (we all know the argument about role models), was Rooney’s crime any worse for the image of the game than Ashley Cole shooting the work experience kid with an air gun, for example? This recent incident is also a distraction from the more serious issues threatening the game. What about some of England’s biggest clubs being the subject of leveraged buyouts or takeovers by disreputable individuals? What about lower league clubs struggling to stay alive? What about genuinely ensuring that referees are respected by players and managers alike? These are the issues within the game that need addressing, not the utterances of a gobby footballer after scoring a goal.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 7:59 pm

    I keep changing my stance on this situation.

    Perhaps the FA are trying to save face and have some consistency in terms of people swearing/shouting at officials. There have been many verbal incidents recently – Alex Ferguson, Avram Grant, Neil Lennon and so on – so the FA probably feel that they have to commit to taking action against verbally aggressive behaviour. For them it’s all or nothing now and we’ll possibly see a rise in these types of charges.

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