The Football Association Code of Conduct - “tough” or simply tinkering?

12 October 2012

The Football Association is to unveil a “tough” new code of conduct. It was introduced to the England Team players in a short presentation on Monday night, although for the time being, it remains under wraps for the rest of us. Apparently in development since January, FA chairman David Bernstein promised that “respect” was the central theme and that the code would provide clarity for England players on what was expected of them on and off the pitch. With John Terry’s recent disgrace followed by Ashley Cole’s expletives on twitter denouncing the FA for their decision on the same, the timing appears apt.

On doing some research, for I confess I am not a football fan, I discovered that there is an existing Code of Conduct for adult players within the “leagues” section of A quick read and it seems to admirably and clearly promote all that we could wish for by way of standards for sporting men and women. Its simplicity encapsulates broad themes that are more useful tools than prescriptive rules. For example – how to deal with twitter and the merging of public and private views brought about by social media? How about, “never engage in public criticism of the match officials” and “never engage in offensive, insulting or abusive language or behaviour”.

It begs the question, why is a new code necessary rather than, for example, revised or new guidance on the application of existing codes? Also, why should there be, as reported, separate sections for when players are playing for England as distinct from when they are playing for their clubs? I would suggest that far from clarifying, it creates confusion and ambiguity about a player’s status at any given moment. It also sends out a poor message that different standards apply depending on how “visible” you are as a player. That is, if you’re not famous (or really really famous), don’t worry about shenanigans off the pitch, chances are, no one will find out or report on them anyway. Cutting the other way, why should England players be expected to abide by higher or different standards than their colleagues with whom they play alongside at club level?

The remedy? A single Code of Conduct that applies to all professional football players applied consistently by an adjudicatory body separate from the FA. As the professional body representing and promoting its members' interests, not least negotiating lucrative commercial deals, it is entirely inappropriate for the FA to abrogate to itself discipline of those members. The FA needs the cooperation and goodwill of its particularly high profile members to fulfil sponsorship contracts. The “tough” should be the tough but necessary decision for the FA to remove all suggestion of conflict by acting on what they already know - effective regulation of players can only come once the disciplinary process is hived off to an independent body. 

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