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Social media is serious business

ENGLISH football was left reeling this week after Greg Clarke (pictured) was forced to quit as chairperson of England’s Football Association in ignominious circumstances.

Sports Panorama:mike madodA

A series of offensive statements to members of parliament left his reputation and that of his organisation in tatters. The long-serving football administrator, vacated his role immediately after his description of “coloured footballers”, amongst other remarks, caused outrage in the world of football and beyond. Clarke’s gaffes at the august house coming just weeks after the FA sought to take the lead on inclusion within sport with the launch of its Football Leadership Diversity Code, is nothing short of an embarrassing own-goal.

Clarke had been summoned to Westminster to discuss his role in the controversial “Project Big Picture” which sought to trim the English Premier League down to 18 teams and in exchange the lower leagues would receive a £250 million (US$329,2 million) grant. While he defended his part in the proposal which has been championed by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, his curious attempt to digress to racial matters led him up a thicket from which he never quite found his way out.

Clarke was forced to apologise for his remarks before the session had even finished. Asked to retract the word “coloured”, Clarke offered an apology which was immediately carried and expanded upon by the FA in a social media post. And this was not the first time.

In 2017, when Clarke was summoned to discuss racial discrimination in football, he described accusations of institutional racism at the FA as “fluff”. As the afternoon passed on Tuesday, a wave of disquiet both inside and outside the organisation only grew, and shortly after 5pm, Clarke fell on his sword and announced his resignation.

“Greg Clarke’s comments are a massive problem — language has power,” wrote Marvin Sordell in The Guardian in the aftermath, and he is right. Whether in direct verbal communication as was the case of Greg Clarke before the British parliament, or on the less formal social media platforms, one has to be careful about what they say and how they say it. And on the very same day, as if not to be left behind, Zifa put a foot in its mouth after a mistimed and poor attempt at humour.

The Young Mighty Warriors have had a forgettable campaign at the Cosafa championships where they have been on the receiving end of some embarrassing defeats.

Trailing 0-4 in the 19th minute and well on their way to a 10-1 mauling at the hands of Tanzania, Zifa quipped “Stop the count!” on Twitter in reference to President Donald Trump’s bizarre attempt to bring a premature end to the verification of votes while he was still in the lead in the just ended US election. The statement has become something of a fad on Twitter over the last week, being used by various sports teams to humour their audiences when in an advantageous position. Southampton, who briefly led the English Premier League for the very first time this past weekend, was perhaps the best exponent of it — a humorous acknowledgement that they are unlikely to perch on top of the league again any time soon. That they had won and were on top of the league at the time, allowed them that.

But the same cannot be said for Zifa. The association, who many hold directly responsible for the Young Mighty Warriors’ week of shame, should not have tried to make light of what is a national embarrassment. With their coach Annie Konje on record rueing the fact that her girls were thrown into the heat of battle without any preparations, it is clear that Zifa never gave the young ladies a chance. For the responsible party to make light of their own ineptitude and inefficiency in that sort of manner was a slap in the face for the young ladies that pulled on the shirt and the fans that were backing them.

There is need for an understanding of what official social media accounts for organisations such as Zifa can and cannot say.

Had it been a parody account, one would not bat an eye-lid because that is their nature. Even PSL side Bulawayo Chiefs who have created something of a social media movement on the back of the light-hearted nature of their interactions, would have got a free pass on the basis that, it would have been in keeping with the online persona they’ve created and the tone they’ve employed from the very start. But coming from the association, this was offside.

Social media provides the opportunity to seamlessly connect and engage with audiences at any given time making it one of the most important marketing tools in sport. But this unique opportunity comes with responsibility. We are responsible for each and every word we say and in environments where leadership is held to account, it was not entirely surprising that Greg Clarke called it a day as the top man in English football while here, several days later that offensive tweet is still up on the Zifa handle for all to see.

Quite clearly no one is taking responsibility and clearer still, the understanding that social media is now serious business is also lost upon the association.

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