It’s now crystal clear why Premier League boss Richard Scudamore is often called the most powerful man in English football.
Exchanging smutty, sexist emails with chums, provoking a wave of condemnation when they were published, wasn’t enough to force his resignation or get him sacked from his high-flying job as chief executive of the world’s wealthiest, most popular league. How’s that for untouchable and proof that football remains very much a male-dominated domain?
It wasn’t an independent commission that saved Scudamore’s skin. His sympathetic jury was made up of Premier League clubs who float on the river of television money he’s helped secure for them in his position since 1999. The current deals with broadcasters are generating 5.5 billion pounds for the league over three years. Jackpot! In unanimously ruling Monday that Scudamore’s jibes about women aren’t a firing offense, the clubs cited his “previously unblemished record over 15 years of service to the Premier League.”
Perhaps the outcome would have been different had Scudamore’s fate been left to women like Rachel Brown-Finnis. The England goalkeeper found nothing funny about the exchanged vulgarities between Scudamore and what the Premier League said were “friends of long standing.” According to the Mirror, which got the emails from his former secretary, Scudamore mocked “female irrationality” and likened a former girlfriend to a double-decker bus: “Happy for you to play upstairs, but her Dad got angry if you went below.”
“An insult to all women” was Brown-Finnis’ view, speaking to the BBC. “Just totally unacceptable in this day and age.”
The Premier League clubs and Scudamore preferred a euphemism: “Inappropriate.”
“The Clubs agreed that such remarks should have no place in the Premier League’s working environment,” they said in their statement Monday. But they also accepted Scudamore’s “genuine and sincere apology” and “resolved unanimously that no further disciplinary action is required or justified.”
The clubs turned their back here on a chance to show that all the talk in football of equality and non-discrimination, the campaigns to promote female participation and the photo-ops with girls in their football kit, isn’t simply lip service and window dressing.
The next time Scudamore visits a women’s college and discusses Premier League efforts to promote girls’ sports, as he did on a British trade visit to India last year, it will be a struggle not to view him and the league as hypocritical, their words hollow. In effect, letting him off scot-free says: Women in football? Sure. But be aware that the men who run football are entitled to make puerile jokes at your expense. (Oh, and while we’re on this subject, could you please be darlings and play in tight shorts, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter once suggested?)
“The Premier League has missed a significant opportunity to demonstrate a strong commitment to equality in the workplace,” said Women in Football, a grouping of more than 1,000 women who work across the sport. “In not recommending action - in any form whatsoever - it will be extremely difficult for women working in the industry to feel reassured that this issue has been adequately addressed.”
Contrast the league’s decision - which took more than a week after the Sunday Mirror newspaper first published extracts of the emails - with the NBA’s swift and unequivocal rejection of Donald Sterling. The NBA took just four days to investigate and then hand a life ban and $2.5 million fine to the Los Angeles Clippers owner after an audio recording surfaced in April of him making racist remarks.
Had Scudamore and pals swapped similar jokes about black women or players would he have survived as chief executive? Certainly, the clubs might not have agreed quite so readily with his argument that these were private emails and that the secretary shouldn’t have accessed them. One inevitable conclusion here is that English football doesn’t feel sexism is quite as heinous as racism.
“The process adopted by the Premier League is a flawed one and there was only ever going to be one outcome,” said Herman Ouseley, chairman of English football’s anti-racism body, Kick It Out. “A decision like this and the way it was made reflects the dominance, strength and culture at the very top of the football pyramid.”
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that a member of his government wouldn’t keep their job if they acted like Scudamore.
But, as this affair again shows, football isn’t the real world. It is a bastion of older white men who hold most of the power.