It was the late Siggy Kramer who compared Football West’s determination to push through the National Premier Leagues format to a political regime his family fled in Europe. Some thought such a comment was harsh but the control that the game’s administrators believe they have goes at times beyond what is reasonable.
Under the previous CEO we witnessed a club fined, – later dropped after a legal challenge – when one of it’s players was involved in an incident at a nightclub that received media coverage. This was an event well outside of the control of a semi-professional club.
In fact this incident should have brought home how the clubs in the NPL-WA are in truth a long way from being professional and are far closer to being amateur clubs, even though they are labelled ‘semi-professional.’
Now under a new CEO we have seen a club threatened with punishment if one of its supporters continues to publicly question not only the game’s administrators but also some of those supposed to be representing the clubs on committees.
What happened to freedom of speech and opinion? Having read some of the opinions of the offender, it is hard to see what the problem is. If certain individuals cannot stand public criticism then maybe they should step aside and let others take on the roles they hold. When you stand for any kind of public office you should be prepared for criticism, as you will never keep all of the people happy, you will also have to have the spine to make unpopular decisions, and defend them.
What is worth thinking about is how the game’s administrators would handle situations witnessed overseas. This season we have seen Arsenal fans publicly, and on their own club television channel rip their manager, Arsene Wenger, to pieces and demand his sacking. Last year we saw Manchester United fans, and ex players do the same publicly in relation to their then manager Louis van Gaal. They too aired such views on their club television channel, MUTV. Would they have been threatened with being fined for bringing the game into disrepute? The interesting thing is they can see the value of airing such views on their own club platforms. If they thought it was going to damage the club would they be so foolish as to give it airtime?
Of course not, because the one thing that sport thrives on is debate. The more people talk about a team, a style of play, or even an individual player, manager or administrator, the more the game is centre stage. Only when such individuals are involved in criminal or unsavoury situations are they charged with bringing the game into disrepute.
Referees remain an area where all have to be cautious, and as much as this frustrates coaches and fans it is understandable. If we saw top flight coaches constantly berating referees it would undermine their authority, and such behaviour would creep into the game at all levels. Already it is hard enough to find enough officials to referee games at all levels, if there were not some expectation of behaviour towards officials the game could well descend into anarchy.
As for people having views on social media, can the game’s governing body really punish a club for an individual airing an opinion? Not The Footy Show consulted a legal expert who advised that it would be very hard for Football West to defend such a position unless the person concerned had slandered or defamed an individual or the organisation. They could however make a case if the opinions were aired publicly and in that person’s official capacity as an office bearer at the club. If what they have said is merely an opinion, or they can prove it is factual then in our legal expert’s opinion Football West would be on shaky ground.
In this instance the individual concerned was merely a volunteer at the club and as a result of the threat has, so we have been told, now withdrawn from that role.
The club in question was advised by a Football West official that even if an individual, not registered with a club as an official or a player, breaks their Social Media Policy, the club that they are associated with would be sanctioned. Our legal expert was even more strong in his opinion that Football West would struggle on legal grounds to punish a club for comments made on social media by an individual who is merely a supporter of a club. How can the club be held accountable for the opinions and views of an individual? They also pointed out that a policy is not legally binding. It is not law. A Policy is merely “a course of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual.”
If however the individual in question was holding up offensive banners and behaving inappropriately inside the ground then the responsibility of ejecting the spectator would fall with the club, but away from a game how can the club be held responsible?
Just last week we saw Channel Ten take a cheap shot at the game of football when they disgracefully linked a “British born Soccer fan” as being “identified as the man behind the Manchester explosion.” Will we see the English club Manchester United that the Manchester Bomber supported fined? Of course we won’t, and the club cannot be held responsible in any way for his behaviour, and quite rightly no one is blaming them.
In fact such comments by one of Australia’s national broadcasters are far more damaging to the sport. Channel Ten has done more damage than one local fan airing their views. Would not the game’s administrators’ time be better served working to stamp out the continual attempts by sections of the media to put the game down rather than trying to silence one follower of the game with an opinion?
It is disappointing that the game’s administration focus on such issues when currently they have what would appear to be other more pressing issues, such as NPL clubs not paying players, and several struggling financially. In addition it is known that some players are still placing bets on the local game; which could affect the integrity of the competition. Surely these two issues alone deserve more drastic action than trying to censor a club for an individual entering a robust discussion on social media? Or maybe having an alternate opinion to the game’s administrators and voicing it via social media is deemed cyber-bullying.