The furore concerning Roy Hodgson’s half time anecdote, during England’s 2-0 victory over Poland, raises some curious questions about confidentiality in sport, race relations, journalistic sources and press conduct in general.
Confidentiality in sport is key. Without complete trust in the sanctity of the dressing room players and staff cannot express themselves openly, trust falls down and a team’s performance suffers. The instances when dressing room confidentiality can be ignored a very rare. Confidential information should only be released by or to the press when there is a public interest in the facts becoming public. For example, if the England manager uses racially insensitive language. Except, in this case, Hodgson clearly did no such thing.
Despite the fact that Hodgson was not guilty as charged, and there could be no reasonable suggestion that he was, the press continued to follow the story up. Instead of celebration of England’s qualification for Brazil 2014 the back pages were dominated by the “scandal”.
The tabloid press thrives on reader outrage, and never is outrage more pronounced than when it comes to “political correctness”. The Daily Mail reader who complains “you can’t say anything nowadays” is a modern caricature. Except it was the pages of the tabloid media which kept the story alive not any left-leaning think tanks or do gooders. The none-too-shy Peter Herbert was, of course, perfectly happy to put out statements and make complaints and play the part designed by the press.
The fact is that this was the scandal that never was (or at least shouldn’t have been). Sport plays an important role in race relations in this country, however, this was a story which damaged, rather than furthered, the debate on society’s problems with racism. As Stan Collymore put it on Twitter:
It was very unfortunate that someone around the England camp chose to leak the story. What was equally unfortunate is that the press and public tried to hunt down the leak – getting it badly wrong along the way (with some very silly suggestions on social media).
Despite the very strict terms of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which newspapers (mostly rightly) rely on steadfastly to protect their sources, the press went to town to try to find the source of the leak. One newspaper even sent a journalist to the home of a client’s mother in order to ask her whether her son was the source (he wasn’t).
So, what have we learnt? Well, when Hodgson got the England job the Sun roundly ridiculed his rhotacism. Once he achieved qualification to Brazil 2014 they leaked a non-story which took all the shine off his achievement. If the squad attains distinction in South America next year we can be sure of one thing – It wasn’t the Sun wot won it.
This post originally appeared on the Himsworths Legal blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks