Blowing the whistle on referees

Sometimes relatively unimportant issues provide examples of apparent evasion or deceit. This example, for which I am grateful to Charles Sale’s Sports Agenda column in the Daily Mail, is carried out so crudely and ineptly that I wonder why the person involved thought her statement would be convincing.

Mark Halsey, a controversial former football referee, had been due to address the Sheffield Referee Assocation. But the invitation was withdrawn following an intervention from an unnamed football official to the national Referee Association (RA)..

According to Sale, Laura Ritchie, chairwoman of the RA, sent an email saying: “A senior member of the footballing world has brought it to our attention that you have invited Mark Halsey to be a guest speaker. It is a worry that a figure who is being very negative about top-flight referees won’t send the right message to members. It may be perceived Sheffield RA agree with his viewpoint.”

Sheffield referees’ management, clearly unhappy, then informed its members: “There was an agreement that we cancel Mark after pressure from the national RA and wider football world.”

I am not here to judge the merits of the case, but the way Ritchie has drafted her comment is staggeringly inept and actually damages any case that she is trying to make.

At least her first sentence has a subject, though ‘a senior member of the footballing world’ does not exactly narrow the field and creates the impression that the individual wants to hide their identity which seems pretty evasive.

Then she continues with sentences which say ‘it is a worry’ and ‘it may be perceived’, which of course means that she is deliberately failing to say who is worrying and who is doing the perceiving.

The response from Sheffield is not much better, assuming of course that the RA shared the names of the individuals concerned – or perhaps the Sheffield RA was making a point. In any event, the statement that ‘there was an agreement’ does not state who the agreement was between, nor is it clear which individuals in the national RA and football world applied the pressure.

These exchanges illustrate yet again how important it is to read carefully what administrators say. A statement that appears straightforward actually contains, on the basis of what Sale has reported, a lot of evasion.

If Ritchie wrote that herself, she should get help in drafting; if she was taking advice from lawyers or her PR department, she should think twice before listening to them again.

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