Jim White

Why the Premier League saved Richard Scudamore

Jim White

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People seem surprised that Richard Scudamore is still in his job as chief executive of the Premier League this morning. There has been a huge swirl of harrumphing about his sexist emails. Social media has been outraged. Newspaper columnists have thundered. Phone-ins have run hot. The Prime Minister has weighed in. And yet he has stayed in place. Which many of us regard as odd.

Normally the sort of storm of indignation he sparked is enough to see off someone in public life who has made a verbal howler. Glenn Hoddle was finished as England manager the moment Tony Blair went on Richard and Judy’s sofa to condemn his bonkers views about the disabled.

The MP Andrew Mitchell was brought down after he was accused of calling Downing Street policemen plebs, even though he hadn’t. Richard Keys and Andy Gray were done for within a week of it becoming public that they had disparaged the abilities of a female referee’s assistant. So how come Scudamore has hung on? How come he has got away with it? How come the mob has not been able to claim its customary victory?

According to some commentators, his retention points to a deeper malaise within football. The game does not consider misogyny, albeit delivered via the forum of a private email leaked for cash reward by a temporary employee who stumbled upon pay dirt by chance, to be as significant an issue as racism or prejudice against the disabled. And anyone complaining about it will be tapped condescendingly on the head and asked to make the tea, with two sugars, love, please.

But then, you didn’t need to know the contents of Scudamore’s frankly embarrassing emails to appreciate that. Just consider this: how come women’s football – you know, that game played by more than half a million people in this country, with its own fully functioning semi-professional league - always requires the prefix 'women’s'? Could it be that football – without any qualification – thinks of itself solely as a male pursuit?

But the reason Scudamore was not brought down by the online throng baying for his blood is more straightforward. It is nothing to do with morals, twisted or otherwise. It is to do with money. Scudamore is an employee of the Premier League, a cartel made up of the 20 clubs who happen to play in the competition.

These are the same 20 businesses that will have benefitted this season to the tune of at least £60 million thanks to Scudamore’s brilliant negotiating skills on their behalf. That’s 60 million reasons not to make rash decisions when it comes to email correspondence about graphite shafts.

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Football commentators often complain about referees’ inconsistency. If only players, managers and fans could rely on the same punishment meted out for the same crime, the game would be much easier to play and observe. And this case appears to be similarly inconsistent.

Keys and Gray made remarks not wholly different in tone from those Scudamore used in his mail to his lawyer friend. And they were gone from the company’s Isleworth HQ with barely a moment’s hesitation. So surely, if the wider game is to have any credibility, the same judgment should be used on the Premier League boss.

Except Keys and Gray were not fired because Sky found what they said objectionable, or because Sky worried about whether such comments would affect ratings. They were removed because the company allegedly wanted them out in order to refresh their output, and it was much cheaper to use a disciplinary measure to hasten their departure.

Besides, Keys and Gray had no friends within the organisation. A fine example of the old Hollywood adage about how you should be nice to people on the way up because you will need them on the way down, the pair found themselves paying for the years of haughty behaviour which had poisoned their relations with other staff members.

It is said that one senior executive at Sky had never forgiven them for being dismissive of him when he first arrived to work at the company in a junior position. Thus it was that the moment the first piece of evidence against them was leaked into the public domain, it was quickly followed by other stuff stockpiled by disgruntled persons.

So disliked were they about the place, the day the two were finally fired, there was a party atmosphere down the corridors. And few can suggest that in Ed Chamberlain and Gary Neville, Sky have not improved their output in the pair’s replacement.

By contrast, Scudamore had endless friends within the game. Some commentators have claimed journalists have refused to speak out against him because they fear his power. Actually, it is more simple than that: people like him.

Just as John Inverdale survived at the BBC after his unpleasant comments about the tennis player Marion Bartolli because everyone behind the scenes loves working with good old Invers, so those who work at the Premier League rushed to tell anyone who would listen what a great guy Scudamore is. Even the woman who was traduced in his correspondence refused to condemn him.

A nice guy who makes everyone money: that’s why Scudamore survived. It doesn’t make what he wrote any more palatable. But it sure as anything insulated him against any consequence.

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