FWA chairman Andy Dunn on how the press can benefit from the Olympic Games…
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
THE GOODWILL factor from the London 2012 Olympic Games that keeps a smile on British faces will have an inevitable knock-on effect as the 2012/13 season gets under way. Comparisons between the manner in which our gold medallists conducted them and the stereotyped image of footballers will be made, with the anti-football brigade penning columns along the lines of “why can’t these overpaid Premier League stars behave like Olympians?”
It was not just the public who were swept along on a wave of Olympic fever. The media, perhaps sensing the mood of the country, took a softly-softly approach when Bradley Wiggins was photographed smoking and drinking on holiday. Wiggins was “enjoying himself” but had an England player been caught indulging in either of the nocturnal habits of the gold medal winner in the road time trial he would have been “boozing” or setting a bad example. Philip Hindes’ admission that he deliberately crashed after a slow start by his team in the men’s team sprint was almost brushed under Fleet Street’s carpet.
Andy Dunn, the Sunday Mirror columnist who succeeds Steve Bates as chairman of the Football Writers’ Association, believes comparisons between Team GB and footballers have little credibility, but admitted the way the media covers football could benefit from some Olympic spirit.
Dunn said: “Any comparisons are disingenuous because the demands on athletes and footballers are so different. Apart from Andy Murray, Bradley Wiggins is probably the highest profile of our Olympic winners, but the media pressures on him or all of our gold medallists are nothing like footballers experience.
“With respect to them, it’s once every four years they are in such a spotlight so they embrace the attention. They received an excellent press and it’s nice to be liked, but because it is so relentless for footballers they have a different attitude.
“What I would like to happen is for footballers to realise how good it is to have positive publicity. Footballers may need to look at themselves and the way they come across, but perhaps the Olympics will also give the media a chance to see how we cover football.
“Footballers would claim the reason they are not as open or forthcoming as those in the Olympics is because if they make one slight error of judgment, saying something that could be taken in a different way, then it will be treated negatively. They will argue the media will always pick on one slightly controversial point among 10 positive ones.
“We should look at that. The media highlight diving or when managers behave badly and we cannot gloss over such issues and cover things up. In the Olympics, Philip Hindes fell off his cycle deliberately to gain an advantage on his way to winning a gold medal and got off very lightly because the Olympics was all about good news.
“Footballers could turn to us during the season when they have been accused of something and quite rightly point out that when Hindes was guilty of blatant gamesmanship the newspapers let him off with a shrug of the shoulders.
“Perhaps we can look at the way we cover football from how we covered the Olympics, maybe placing more emphasis on positives rather than negatives.”
While London 2012 was hailed as the best Olympics most could remember, Dunn said English football and football writing is enjoying a similar golden era.
“These are exciting times to be a football writer, never mind chairman of the Football Writers’ Association,” he said. “The Premier League has signed the biggest television deal in its history which shows, however you want to compare it with the Olympics, that its appeal is unbelievable.
“Our sports writers are in the country whose football has the biggest global appeal of any league. To be chairman of the organisation whose members are writing about one of the most successful sporting leagues in the world is fantastic.”
Similarly, the FWA have never been in such a strong position “for several reasons,” according to Dunn. “Our members have different platforms because apart from writing for their newspapers, they are writing across the social media. Some of our members have a Twitter following that equates to minor celebrities. They can be read by more people on Twitter than they are in print.
“Football writers have never had such a high profile. People want to read about the Barclays Premier League and all the great players who perform in it. We have the opportunity to do this not only for a domestic audience, but world-wide.
“The two main FWA events, the Footballer of the Year dinner before the FA Cup final and the January Gala Tribute Evening have gone from strength to strength.
“Barclays remain the most supportive of sponsors while the FWA are also represented on Twitter and, of course, by the revamped web site.
“There has been a gradual improvement in facilities for the media in the Premier League and Football League, though there is still much work to be done. It’s important that we are in on the ground floor when new stadiums are built. We worked closely with Arsenal on the Emirates stadium and the Football Association for Wembley and everyone would agree these press facilities are superb.”
Dunn hopes to see more FWA Live evenings next season after the success of the inaugural question-and-answer session in London last May which featured FWA representatives Dunn, Henry Winter, Shaun Custis, Paul McCarthy and Matt Lawton plus Gary Lineker and Adrian Bevington, the managing director of Club England.
“We are talking to people about three or four FWA Live evenings around the country,” said Dunn. “They would feature FWA members plus a couple of personalities from football with the audience asking questions. We were fortunate with the first one because it was the day Kenny Dalglish was sacked.”
*The memorial service for Dennis Signy, a former chairman of the Football Writers’ Association, will be held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street on September 13 (11:30) and afterwards at the Punch Tavern.