Briefing

Inn the Field of Play - April 2014: Managing Sporting Reputations: What Pardew & others teach us

Posted by : Julian Pike | Date posted : 30/04/2014

The names of Nicholas Anelka, Olivier Giroud, Dan Gosling and Alan Pardew have all made the news of late … all for the wrong reasons.

 Managing a player’s reputation has always been important. That has never been more true than today.  While the career earnings in the major sports are hugely inflated in comparison to the past, those careers are tending to be shorter than previously experienced (no one plays professional football into their fifties such as the late Sir Stanley Matthews). There is therefore a need to maximise the player’s name and goodwill, not just for the period of his/her career, but also for the opportunities that may open up post playing career.

In balancing these interests, the impact of the internet cannot be ignored. A bad story previously could be regarded as “tomorrow’s chip paper”, but not anymore. An adverse story, particularly a serious one, will be available indefinitely and globally. It is also true that a piece of news first published in the UK can within minutes appear as far afield as India, the US and the Far East.  When it comes and examination of how sports individuals do or, perhaps more appropriately, should manage their reputations, sport is the gift that keeps on giving. 

A sportsman whose career is spent living out on the back pages is one that invariably will stand him in good stead. The moment a story migrates from the sports pages to the front pages, it becomes the time to be concerned.

 

Anelka’s own goal

Anelka, in making his quenelle jesture to ‘celebrate’ his goal, and Pardew, in putting his head to David Meyler’s, provide clear cut examples of on-field misconduct which have potentially longer term ramifications. However, how they each dealt with their misdemeanour is also relevant to the rehabilitation of their respective names.

In our February 2014 edition we outlined how Nicholas Anelka’s quenelle gesture became synonymous in France with the “comedian” Dieudonne’s anti-Semitic views. In attempting to defend his use of the gesture, Anelka claimed to be merely dedicating his goal to his friend, Dieudonne. Although the FA Regulatory Commission did not find Anelka to be racist, at best, the use of a racist gesture was naïve. Irrespective of the FA Regulatory Commission’s finding, Anelka is quite likely to be seen as sympathetic to his friend’s views, which is but a short step away from being considered a racist. While it is impossible to calculate the cost to Anelka (beyond his £80,000 fine and sacking from West Bromwich Albion), the incident can only cause long term damage to his name. Had he admitted the charge and argued the gesture was a foolish, instantaneous act which he sorely regretted, the damage done may have been limited, his previous good conduct having stood him in good stead.

 

Pardew’s purgatory

Pardew provides an interesting contrast with Anelka. The Newcastle manager has a history of fractious touch-line incidents. Meyler’s ‘collision’ with him immediately before the head-butt was so minor that it could not in any way justify Pardew’s reaction, not that Pardew attempted to suggest it did. Pardew’s immediate public and fulsome acceptance that his actions were inexcusable, as well as Newcastle’s own instant £100,000 fine, went some ways to limiting the damage. As a consequence, Pardew’s violent conduct, even with his history, is likely to have little lasting impact, it being a “heat of the moment” act for which he accepted full responsibility.

 

A private affair

Giroud, the Arsenal striker, like many a sportsman before him had an affair with a model. Apart from being an unpleasant surprise for his wife, without any public interest factors, the mere fact that a player has an affair has no real resonance in today’s world. One only has to think of Manchester United's new interim manager, Ryan Giggs’ affair with a model to see the lack of any lasting impact, despite the flawed attempt to cover it up through an injunction.  Depending on the player, it might be newsworthy in terms of being interesting to some, but it is not reputationally harmful. Giroud’s major mistake was however to claim that he had not had the affair. Immediately, this gave the story ‘legs’ and added justification for publication.

While Giroud would have undoubtedly had some explaining to do at home, he would have been much better advised to accept his mistake straight away. Instead, Giroud broke one of the golden rules of reputation management: do not lie or mislead, the cover up is always worse and more damaging than the offence. Belatedly, Giroud tweeted “I now have to fight for my family and for my club and obtain their forgiveness. Nothing else matters at the moment.” How much easier it would have been had this been his initial response. 

 

Dan Gosling

Newcastle’s Dan Gosling admitted last month to a misconduct charge following multiple breaches of the FA’s rules against betting.  Gosling was fined £30,000.

In the past year, a spate of individuals, such as Gosling, have been fined for breaching the FA’s betting rules. More worrying have been the recent arrests of a number of individuals in connection with allegations of corruption concerning spot and/or match-fixing in football. Spot and match-fixing in cricket, especially on the sub-continent, has been with us for a considerable time. The fact that gambling is illegal on the sub-continent and therefore un-policed, is a major contributory factor to the corruption in sport globally.

 

Comment

While a sportsman having an affair may be of interest to the average reader (per Matthew Parris: “… newspapers report the private lives of celebrities because the public are fascinated by the sins of the rich and powerful”), of itself, the story is unlikely to have any lasting effect on their career and general reputation. Corruption, including taking performance enhancing drugs, is likely to have far greater consequences. In contrast, drug cheats and match fixers fundamentally undermine the bond fans have with their sport and its stars. For this reason, the integrity of the individual (and the sport) are massively undermined.  The late Hanse Cronje, the Pakistani Test cricketers caught in the Lord’s Test sting and, historically, Ben Johnson, the Canadian athlete are all good examples. Many of the main sports have now developed education programmes and reporting mechanisms in respect of suspicious circumstances. These are to be applauded. Indeed, Tranmere Rovers FC have acted swiftly in dismissing their manager Ronnie Moore after he admitted an FA charge regarding multiple breaches of the betting rules.  However, much more needs to be done to ensure the risk of corruption is minimised.

If players are to protect and enhance their reputations then they would be well-advised to:

  • Ensure they compete in clubs where a good culture and strong ethical values exist;
  • Be well-advised and avoid advisers, agents and other players who might be thought unscrupulous and in compatible with the right culture/values;
  • Adopt a long-term view of their career: a good untarnished career is likely to lead to continuing opportunities after they retire;
  • Be honest about mistakes and wrong-doing; rehabilitation is always a possibility; covering up is typically worse than the offence and causes long-term harm;
  • Never be afraid to seek advice: if in doubt, ask a trusted adviser.

As in the past, such guidance will continue to be frequently forgotten in the heat of the moment. However, if role models are what you seek, sport provides many fantastic examples to follow. Shearer, Strauss and Wilkinson are three that come immediately to mind.

 

INN OUR VIEW

Udo Onwere, Associate in our private client team:  “The tension building in this season’s Premiership title race will end with Manchester City as Champions with a final day victory at home against West Ham.  Aguero time all over again”.

 

If you require further information on anything covered in this briefing please contact Udo Onwere (udo.onwere@farrer.co.uk 020 3375 7439) Tom Rudkin (thomas.rudkin@farrer.co.uk; 020 3375 7586)  Julian Pike (julian.pike@farrer.co.uk; 020 3375 7217) or your usual contact at the firm on 020 3375 7000. Further information can also be found on the Private Client; Disputes; Brand Reputation pages on our website.

This publication is a general summary of the law.  It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, April 2014