Expressing an Opinion or Bringing the game into Disrepute?

Chelsea and England defender Ashley Cole

After the FA charged Ashley Cole due to his tweets about the very same governing body, it has sparked a debate about what exactly ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ actually means. Where exactly is the line for this and when is it crossed, no longer being a mere opinion but something that is actually forbidden by the FA?

Due to the feelings surrounding the player in question, it is a shame that Ashley Cole is the example for this topic, with Cashley hardly being popular with fans or indeed fellow players it seems, being called multiple things from a money grabber to inspiring Rio Ferdinand to showcase his ice cream knowledge, but none the less, feelings aside Cole’s tweet seems a good place to start.

After being accused of ‘evolving’ his statement to help teammate John Terry, Cole called the FA a ‘bunch of t****’ and whilst the use of the shall we say naughty word is less than advisable and something Cole should not have done, the opinion itself is not one that is actually that bad. Had Cole of tweeted ‘bunch of fools’ would he then have been charged? Knowing the FA I suspect yes he would, but again that is a personal twitter site that is expressing an opinion. Had he moaned about a Domino’s order or customer service would he have been charged with slander? No.

Whilst I am not setting out to defend Cole or indeed twitter – which is a whole different kettle of fish in itself and a major problem that needs tackling – I am making the point that the FA seem to be charging players for comments that are personal opinions more than that of outright disrepute.

Of course, this sums up the governing body in our country and indeed the higher ones of UEFA and FIFA, who are more willing to charge a player for making an off the cuff comment or indeed wearing a pair of boxer shorts than they are a player of club for racism allegations with not only the time taken to charge a player being vastly different but the actual punishment or fine basically sending out a message that is totally wrong.

Imagine Cole gets banned for 3 games now – one less than John Terry for his guilty verdict of racial abuse. There is not many times when Joey Barton can claim to be a victim but after the Terry verdict and 4 game ban – compare that to his 12 game one and you have a serious problem with the FA.

Should a comment be one that can be racially interpreted such as choc ice gate or ones that contain serious foul / abusive language the FA do have a right to act, but imagine if Cole had said after a Chelsea game where the officials had a good game ‘fucking brilliant’ would the FA charge him for this opinion? Probably not – so essentially it is not the swear word that is the problem but the issue of calling the FA and presenting a dissenting opinion in the first place.

I am not expecting this to be a popular opinion, in fact the majority of people may feel Cole has no right to say what he did, nor did the masses of other players and managers who have expressed post match opinions about the officials or referees, but my point is this – are we beginning to see a dangerous precedent being formed where by people involved in the game will be vilified by the official bodies for expressing a view which does not suit their own? If this is the case the issue is about to become much more serious than anyone realised.