Dani Garavelli: Ugly actions shame beautiful game

The League Managers Association initially suggested the comments made by Malky Mackay were 'banter'. Picture: Getty Images
The League Managers Association initially suggested the comments made by Malky Mackay were 'banter'. Picture: Getty Images
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IS THE hounding of ex-Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay over racist, homophobic and sexist texts proof we are living in a Big Brother society in which ordinary Joes can be punished for thought crimes?

Some people seem to think so. On football forums, the view that the former Celtic defender is being hung out to dry over remarks which – while unpalatable – were made in the course of a private conversation, and so are nobody’s business but his own, appears to be at least as common as the view that he’s an embarrassing anachronism who deserves everything that’s coming.

“What next?” some people ask. Could a couple making flippant remarks about a neighbour’s sexuality find themselves similarly exposed to public scrutiny? And what do off-the-cuff comments made to friends reveal about an individual’s true stance on race, sexuality and gender anyway?

Yet, as with everything, so much depends on context. When Gordon Brown smiled as Gillian Duffy talked about the impact of eastern European immigration – then called her a bigot the second he was out of earshot – the BBC was justified in broadcasting his slur to the nation. Though uttered to an aide when he thought his microphone was switched off, it was germane to the event he was attending and appeared to expose a gap between the public and private persona.

Likewise, when Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys were forced out for making sexist comments about a female assistant referee, they were not, as they suggested, being punished for engaging in off-air banter but for possessing prejudiced views which impinged on, and were expressed in the course of, their job.

The same is true of the texts exchanged between Mackay and former Cardiff City head of recruitment Iain Moody. It may be the case that his remark about a party of south Koreans arriving in the city – “Fk it. There’s enough dogs in Cardiff for us all to go around” – is the kind of off-colour joke you might hear in any pub any day of the year, but these weren’t just some random South Koreans, they were accompanying the club’s new signing mid-fielder Kim Bo-kyung, and Mackay wasn’t on a drunken night out, but communicating with a workmate about a work matter.

Similarly, when, with reference to agent Phil Smith, the 42-year-old Scot texted: “Nothing like a Jew that sees money slip through his fingers”, he was speaking not as a private individual, but as the manager of a football club with a reputation to uphold. And if making racist (or homophobic or sexist) comments about people you encounter through work doesn’t merit disciplinary proceedings and investigation by the Football Association, then you have to ask what would.

While politically incorrect comments can be made in a tongue-in-cheek way, there is no hint of irony in what Mackay says. He denies he is racist, homophobic or sexist, but the idea that the way he chooses to express himself has no bearing on his behaviour is too hard to swallow even for Moody, who responds to fears a player they have been pursuing has been in touch with a rival club, with the words: “He told me he had an offer to go there, but would never accept because the manager is a racist. Thankfully, he has never met you.”

Moody’s insult – however jocularly intended – has been echoed by others. After the text messages were published, former Cardiff City player Ibrahim Farah claimed that, during his time with the club, Mackay called him “the wee Egyptian” (he is Welsh, his parents are from Somaliland) and once said of a Somali child: “There’s Ibby’s wee brother.”

There are those who see the publication of the texts, uncovered during a wider investigation into alleged transfer irregularities, as a vicious character assassination by a club with an axe to grind. Certainly their discovery is rumoured to have played a part in Mackay’s dropping his unfair dismissal claim against Cardiff City.

But, turning this on its head, the most shocking aspect of the affair is that, without the feud, without the need to find a stick with which to beat Mackay, these exchanges might never have come to light. How many other clubs are turning a blind eye to the casual racism of officials they harbour no ill-will towards?

That Mackay is not a lone dinosaur can be seen by the way the League Managers Association handled the affair. By initially down-playing the remarks as “friendly text message banter”, the LMA makes it clear discrimination is not something it takes seriously and that the principal crime here has been getting caught.

Admittedly, some high-profile figures have condemned Mackay’s text messages, but the reaction of the LMA and old-timers such as Harry Redknapp reinforce what most people even on the periphery of the footballing world know only too well: that its attempt to rebrand itself as a modern, inclusive sport is superficial. At football’s heart is a hard core of throwbacks for whom jokes about South Korean dog-eating doesn’t even register as contentious.

So Mackay has lost out on his hoped-for job as manager at Crystal Palace. And Moody has had to resign as the club’s sporting director. Perhaps this sends out the right message. Then again, I bet a trawl of all club officials’ phones would throw up more texts in the same vein. Until such remarks are seen, not merely as a means of holding troublesome managers to ransom, but as a problem in their own right, it seems unlikely underlying attitudes will change. «

Twitter: @DaniGaravelli1