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Premier League looks out of touch as D-day arrives for Scudamore: Public must see a genuine commitment to tackling the issues raised by sexism storm, argues David Conn
[May 18, 2014]

Premier League looks out of touch as D-day arrives for Scudamore: Public must see a genuine commitment to tackling the issues raised by sexism storm, argues David Conn

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The Premier League has said it is mounting a serious investigation into its chief executive Richard Scudamore's emails, in which he joked about his friend's "shaft", girls who let him "play upstairs", and "female irrationality" when women have children.

"A proper review of all the evidence is now under way within the Premier League's established and rigorous procedures," a statement said, rejecting - before the review is concluded - the accusation by the Football Association board member, Heather Rabbatts, that the league operates a "closed culture of sexism".

Exactly what evidence is being gathered, how it is being reviewed, what these "established and rigorous procedures" are, the league did not say. They did, however, say last week that the issue has fallen for consideration by, of all things, the audit and remuneration committee, at its meeting today. That raises huge questions about the adequacy of the league's "procedures" if it has no better forum to bring the matter to a grown-up conclusion.

The audit and remuneration committee is four middle-aged to elderly men, Bruce Buck, Peter Coates, David Gill and John Williams, whose main role is to award Scudamore and the league's chairman their extremely generous pay. Scudamore himself and the chairman, Anthony Fry, who is currently unwell, are the only members of the Premier League's board. They recommend the committee's members to the 20 clubs for approval. One senior source told the Guardian he has never known the clubs object to anybody Scudamore and the chairman recommend.

The committee's remit is solely financial, as described in the Premier League's annual accounts. Besides deciding Scudamore's pay - pounds 1,897,000 last year and a pounds 2.5m, four-year bonus awarded in 2010 - the committee "oversees the monitoring of the adequacy of the company's [ie the Premier League's] internal [financial] controls, accounting policies and financial reporting. It provides a forum through which the company's external auditor may report to the board." These are important duties, yet nowhere does it say such a committee has any role examining anybody's conduct, alleged sexism or oversight of the Premier League's equality, diversity or anti-discrimination policy. Nor is it constituted to consider whether Scudamore's apology, in which he acknowledged his comments were "inappropriate" while complaining that the secretary who leaked them had no right to do so, was a sufficient response.

The anti-discrimination policy which the league has formally adopted, says: "The league will not tolerate sexual or racially based harassment or other discriminatory behaviour, whether physical or verbal, and the board will ensure that such behaviour is met with appropriate disciplinary action whenever it occurs." Why, therefore, if the board is responsible, is the audit and remuneration committee at all involved with this? The answer, of course, is that the two-man board and lack of independent directors has been exposed by this episode as - to coin a phrase once levelled with relish at the FA - "not fit for purpose".

For years the league has defended this two-man board, despite it failing to comply with recommended good practice, including in the Combined Code of Corporate Governance, of having a balanced, diverse board with independent non-executive directors. While making that argument the Premier League has aggressively backed for a decade calls for the FA to have more independent non-executive directors and relentlessly criticised the FA's governance.

An audit and remuneration committee is normally - including at the Premier League's own clubs - constituted of non-executive directors; a system, itself much criticised as ineffectual, aimed at holding directors' pay to some sort of independent account. The Premier League's four appointees are not independent non-executive directors and, for all their qualities, it is difficult to understand the criteria by which they are appointed.

Buck and Coates are both chairmen of their clubs, Chelsea and Stoke City. Does Gill represent Manchester United or the FA, of which is he is a board member? Williams, well respected as the chairman of Blackburn Rovers, resigned from that club three years ago and is currently chairman of the professional game's referees and match officials training group.

The Premier League has not said if this committee has commissioned any internal investigation, which might look into whether Scudamore's emails were part of a course of conduct, or if the committee is simply looking at the few emails published in the Sunday Mirror and taking at face value Scudamore's protestation that this was "an error or judgment". The committee does not appear to have oversight of the equality or anti-discrimination policy or to have been appointed as any kind of experts in this area.

Some people, mainly men of a similar age to Scudamore, 54, argue that his emails, including the passing-on of jokes about "big titted broads" on his work address, are knockabout stuff and it is po-faced to assert otherwise. Others, including women players and the organisation Women in Football, have argued Scudamore's emails highlighted demeaning and unworthy attitudes, are worrying in a game many women experience as a throwback of sexism and undermine the league's commitment to equality.

Those issues need to be decided in a proper, convincing way but the affair has exposed the Premier League as too much dominated by one man and lacking the basic, modern decent practice it has demanded so aggressively of others.

(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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