The much anticipated FA Code of Conduct: (not) unveiled…

19 October 2012

The Code was trailed as putting “respect” at the fore and the press were assured that this Code would have a not insignificant impact on England players and the international reputation of Club England. Ahead of their flight to Warsaw for their World Cup qualifier against Poland, press reports tell us that England’s players were presented with a new Club England booklet containing the much-anticipated six-page Code. Club England’s remaining 24 representative teams are also to receive copies but not it seems, the general public. On telephoning the FA this morning, it has been confirmed that it is to be privately circulated only. 

How very odd. Reports suggest that the sentiment of the Code is unequivocal: playing for England is an honour, privilege and responsibility with scope far beyond skills on the pitch. That being so, why not broadcast this inspiring message with pride? Particularly when it seems it will have some bite. Amongst other sanctions available, it is reported that breach of the code will allow the FA to issue a warning, strip the captain of his armband, determine that a player is ineligible for selection for specific matches/period or enforce an indefinite ban. Apparently, there will be no right of appeal which has led fans to deride the procedure and processes of the FA as that of a kangaroo court. This closed and opaque approach hardly bolsters confidence in the FA’s adjudicatory processes.

If reports are to be believed, some of the Code reads like a handbook for any parent or guardian responsible for a teenager: don’t spend hours playing computer/video games; don’t be glued to your mobile phone; and when staying away from home, don’t touch the room service menu. Also reported as included are stark reminders about the potential for text, picture and BBM messages to become public, a general rule advising players not to comment about opposition, management and individuals (the need for this no more neatly demonstrated than by Ashley Cole’s recent Twitter outburst) and a specific ban on social media postings in the 24 hours before the game or on match-day, unless authorised. Also rumoured as included are broader expectations for players to refrain from doing “anything adverse” which might tarnish “the reputation or integrity of the England team”. 

From these press tid-bits available on the content of the Code, there appears to be a level of detail that requires an acknowledgement from England players that at international level their responsibilities are heightened.

Footballers have long been idolised and even immortalised by, often young and fiercely dedicated, loyal fans. The quid pro quo for this loyalty is a responsibility to behave as fitting role models. You need not travel far from home in order to understand the impact and reach of football, not only on a country’s footballing reputation, but on a country’s reputation generally. Consider the furore this week following the behaviour of Serbia’s U21 team and fans. International friends often recognise my home city only by its football club: “Ah, you’re from Leeds? I have an LUFC shirt, LeedsLeedsLeedsLeedsLeeds” (albeit, that was in LUFC’s glory days). Unfortunately as LUFC was on the verge of slipping down the league tables, so was its reputation as it became almost synonymous with racial intolerance in the wake of the Bowyer and Woodgate incident. 

It is regrettable that the FA has not seen fit to publish this Code, not least because it will be difficult to gauge its effect. For the time being then, it is to be hoped that, as with any professional code, in defining standards and values of acceptable and responsible behaviour the Code will assist players, as much as holding them to account. If the Code is adhered to by players in relation to, for example, their use of Facebook, they will be protecting themselves as much as protecting the values and reputation of the team that they play for. Exhorting players to pause before logging on to twitter in order to retaliate in kind to taunts from opposition fans will promote the honour of dignified silence, offering players an alternative from the potential anxiety of not “standing up for themselves”.

Whilst the Olympics set out to “inspire a generation”, it is incumbent on our international footballers to follow suit.

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