Robin Sainty: Football is passing the parcel of responsibility

PUBLISHED: 12:45 08 May 2020

Are broadcasters calling the tune over football's future? Picture: PA

Are broadcasters calling the tune over football's future? Picture: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

There may be no live football to write or talk about, but it appears that the national media have a new distraction: The Blame Game.

Brighton chairman Tony Bloom Picture: PABrighton chairman Tony Bloom Picture: PA

Ever since Brighton chairman Tony Bloom and CEO Paul Barber publicly raised the question of removing relegation if the season were to be completed at neutral grounds because of the massive change in conditions that would be required to stage the games, there has been a growing whispering campaign which has in turn generated a tidal wave of vitriol on social media.

Suddenly, one club’s opinion developed into a Daily Telegraph headline that thundered; “Bottom-six put Premier League resumption in jeopardy as major rift emerges between clubs” despite none of the other five having made any sort of public statement to that effect at the time.

A closer examination of the article revealed that this ground-shaking revelation had emanated from “one leading club executive” who was inevitably unidentified, but it was enough to light the necessary spark and soon enough the story was everywhere and growing in the telling.

The Daily Mail had “one source present at the meeting” going even further, saying that “They (the bottom six) are threatening to destroy football just to avoid the risk of relegation. Their thinking is so short-sighted.”

I’ll leave you to consider that gem of wisdom for a moment because my irony meter has just exploded...

In case that wasn’t enough to provoke a sufficiently strong wave of bile and righteous indignation aimed at those clubs, the article also threw in the suggestion that, “Such are the tensions that some clubs have been accused of using their medical staff to stoke fear among players about the health risks of returning to action”.

Obviously, the players would have been blissfully oblivious to any health risks if it hadn’t been for those pesky medical staff and their scare tactics.

And, of course, by Thursday the Mail had taken it up another notch by picking out the bottom three in a headline, although the article itself suggested that the three clubs above them were the biggest opponents of Operation Restart, and suggesting that they would be automatically relegated should they not vote for games to be played at neutral venues. It has been trial by media with no defence allowed and the prosecution case based on anonymous tittle tattle that never has to be substantiated.

Inevitably, by the end of the week, social media was awash with rival fans berating the bottom six with all sorts of accusations, such as “using the global pandemic as an excuse to not lose out on money” and even in one case, demanding that all six be “ejected” from the Premier League.

Sadly, some comments have been aimed specifically at City, who appear, by virtue of being bottom, to have been identified as some sort of ringleader despite the club having made no comment at all about the issue, other than Daniel Farke very clearly stating that he relished the chance to avoid relegation by getting the necessary points once it was safe to resume playing.

Last weekend the Mail identified the top six clubs as being the main focus of opposition to the removal of relegation, but it wasn’t long before the real source revealed itself with the Telegraph reporting on Monday that “broadcasters are expected to oppose any plans for relegation from the Premier League﷟”.

And there we have it, a decision that should solely be one for the FA, the PFA, the Premier League and, most importantly, medical experts, is being influenced by TV companies.

Of course they want their pound of flesh, to which, let’s not forget, they have a contractual right, but there is another, much deeper issue, which was perfectly articulated in a statement to his club’s fans by Danny Hunter, chairman of National League Boreham Wood: “I’ll watch with a touch of fear for the whole of football, to see if the Premier League and Sky are now only driven by money and decide if I keep my Sky subscription going. I know that when just one high-profile person dies, and it’s traced back to the Premier League restart, that everyone will look for excuses and run for cover.”

And there, in a nutshell is the elephant in the room that everyone has been dancing around for the last few weeks. If and when football restarts and a tragedy like that occurs, someone will have to take responsibility for having given it the go ahead, and unsurprisingly no one is exactly rushing to put their, or their organisations, neck on the chopping block.

That, I strongly suspect, is why the Premier League statement last Friday, despite earlier leaks that specific restart dates would be announced, was very precise in saying that any restart would only happen if approved by the government and its scientific advisers, and also why the government has said that it wants football back “as soon as possible” but, in the words of Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, “of course, any such moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance”.

Of course, the PFA could step up to the plate and make a stand against the clear threat to the health of its members, but the following passage from its own website makes it crystal clear why it won’t: “The vast majority of revenue that the PFA receives comes from a share in the television revenue which the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association receive from their broadcasting deals.”

You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

At the start of this piece I talked about The Blame Game being played by the national media to suit the agendas of the broadcasters, but there’s a different game being played by the bodies who will have to make the (potentially fateful) decision to resume playing. It’s called Pass the Parcel of Responsibility and we wait with bated breath to see who’s holding it when the music finally stops.

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