Last summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil was a celebration of all that is good about the glorious game.
But in so many other aspects, football undergoes a continual challenge with its own reputation.
True, the days where families were fearful of attending games because of fan violence may be long gone in most domestic leagues, but whether it is high profile players biting opponents, player misbehaviour off the pitch or even chairmen saying the wrong thing, there is much room for improvement if football is to provide the role models it aspires to create.
Over the past few weeks in England, for instance, lower league clubs Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic have been heavily criticised for contemplating signing former Welsh international Ched Evans, who has served half of a five-year prison term for rape.
Evans maintains his innocence and a determination to clear his name, but an offer from Sheffield United was withdrawn after significant opposition from supporters, sponsors, patrons and politicians.
When it appeared that Evans would sign for Oldham, several sponsors cut their ties with the club and again, supporters and politicians voiced their concerns.
Thirty miles away in Wigan, the appointment of manager Malky Mackay also caused controversy.
Mackay, who had enjoyed a successful spell as manager of Cardiff City, had been accused some months before of sending ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’ texts to a colleague and at the time of his Wigan appointment, he was still under investigation by the Football Association.
The Wigan Chairman, Dave Whelan, usually very good with the media, then made some ill-advised comments which were also considered to be ‘racist’ and ‘offensive’. Whelan accepted an FA charge which resulted in a ban and £50,000 fine.
In both the examples above, the reputation of the clubs involved, let alone that of football as a whole, has been tarnished.
Certainly anyone planning on signing Evans or making ill-informed comments would have expected some controversy.
At Calacus, we are surprised by how few of the basic public relations principles those involved in these situations have applied to protect their reputations.
Unlike any other business, football attracts fans who are passionate about their clubs and their heroes and moments of sporting excellence can be inspiring in a way few other things can. In turn, that attracts levels of media coverage virtually no other sport can match.
Sports organisations need to ensure that they have robust issues and crisis plans in place, which are reviewed and updated every six months to take into account every possible challenge or pitfall that they may face.
Usually it is not the crisis but the way an individual or an organisation deals with it that shapes their reputation but that means being prepared for every eventuality, communicating openly with stakeholders.
Media training also plays a part and we often train senior spokespeople who are well versed in talking to journalists and then fluff their lines or panic when challenged on difficult topics.
At Calacus we use former national and international journalists to ensure spokespeople say the right things, use the correct tone and can show authority and compassion.
We also work with organisations with an interest in sport to audit the potential issues that they may face so that they can be prepared for or even avoid the public outcry which Sheffield United, Oldham and Wigan have faced in recent weeks.
Has your organisation undertaken an issues audit or updated a crisis plan recently? How confident are you that your spokespeople could stand up and address the media competently if crisis strikes?
If you aren’t absolutely confident on all these matters, get in touch with us.