Shocking cruelty and nastiness of this mess must be addressed
Rest assured, there is plenty more where the Ward episode came from
Football’s discrimination problem, which it shares with much of society, will not be wholly solved by diversity training or corporate sanctions for clubs. From fans all the way up to owners, individual accountability is the route to change.
The Lucy Ward case reveals shocking cruelty by the then regime at Leeds United. Even that sentence is problematic, because it suggests the whole of the club was infected by dinosaur thinking. In fact, an employment tribunal judgment pointed the finger at three men who contrived to remove Ward from her job: Massimo Cellino, the owner, former executive director Adam Pearson and ex-club secretary Stuart Hayton. None has been sanctioned by the Football Association, who instead concluded that the judgment had applied to Leeds, the institution, rather than the people who ran it.
There is a lot of nastiness in this story. A spurious case was built against Ward. The allegation that she was “absent without authority
[from Leeds]” when covering the 2015 Women’s World Cup was adjudged to be “a sham”.
Equally disgraceful is the joint dismissal of Ward and men’s team manager Neil Redfearn on the grounds that they “came as a pair,” as if Ward had no professional value of her own.
Football has seen the floodgates open over the past two years on discrimination, bullying and abuse. For decades it was a closed republic, trapped in its own world view. And rest assured, there is plenty more where the Lucy Ward episode came from. The game’s judicial system is overwhelmed, and sometimes looks for shortcuts, which is the impression one gains from looking at the Football Association’s handling of Ward.
First, she insists she was not interviewed when the details of the judgments against Cellino, Pearson and Hayton were heard. The FA has been accused of this before, in the Eni Aluko case, and needs a rule that says victims, and accusers, must always be spoken to. In Ward’s case, the FA made sure her £290,000 payment for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination had been received, and told Leeds to conduct an equality and diversity training course, but stopped there, claiming the “threshold” for proceeding against Cellino, Pearson and Hayton “was not met”.
This is where the system falls down. Leeds merely took part in the EFL’S standard equality and diversity training, while the three perpetrators of Ward’s sacking moved on to fresh challenges, unpunished. Ward evidently feels that her argument prevailed but that justice then lost the will to proceed beyond a corporate judgment and a payout.
Her determination to pursue the case ought to show us that people who feel wronged in this way are not satisfied by neat solutions that allow individuals to escape a reckoning.
This fits a pattern in football. Culprits are hiding behind generalised reports on “cultures” and corporate responsibility. Warnings are issued. Training courses, which have value, but not in isolation, become a panacea. This allows people to bully and discriminate with impunity, knowing the club will take the rap.
The regime that treated Ward so nastily at Leeds has gone now. But the culture that allowed it is still prevalent in parts of football. Those who inflict it on people to whom they owe a duty of care need to be held to account individually. That alone will truly “retrain” them.
CHIEF SPORTS WRITER PAUL HAYWARD