The sting: England manager’s firing ‘unfair’

Own goal: This reply by Allardyce to a question on ‘third party ownership’ rules has cost him.

Sam Allardyce waited years to manage England’s football team. Last night he was sacked after one game. An undercover operation cost him the role. A fair cop, or a sinister intrusion?

‘I can’t stop smiling. This is a job I’ve waited for for many, many years.’

Sam Allardyce was speaking on July 22nd. He had just been appointed manager of his country’s football team and made the highest-paid international coach in the world. Last night, just two months later, football’s governing body in England, the Football Association (FA) stripped him of his dream job after one game.

Yesterday a Telegraph video showed him advising reporters — disguised as businessmen from the far east — how to circumvent rules which his employers, the FA, are instrumental in enforcing. He also began negotiating a £400,000 deal to represent their company. There were numerous other indiscretions in four hours of footage.

Allardyce was summoned to Wembley to explain himself. ‘It is difficult to see him surviving this,’ wrote Matt Lawton of the Mail. And so it proved.

Journalistic ‘sting’ operations are common in the UK. They have led to some stunning revelations of corruption and greed.

In several cases, MPs accepted money to influence the causes they lobbied for; in 2010, two Pakistan cricketers and their captain took bribes to bowl no-balls. Celebrities and even royals have been implicated. Reports yesterday suggested The Telegraph has now ‘stung’ seven football managers in an investigation into corruption.

But the tactic has proved controversial. The reporter Mazher Mahmood, a ‘fake sheikh’ who secured exclusive stories for the defunct Sunday tabloid News of the World, is now on trial accused of tampering with evidence.

Some of those subjected to stings say journalists pressured them to behave unethically in order to produce a good story.

The press tend to be freer than the police in this regard. British police have caught terrorist suspects through stings, but judges can throw out criminal cases if they think ‘state-created crimes’ have taken place. The FBI have commonly conducted similar operations in the USA, but they are illegal in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Stung

Proponents of press freedom say their stings are ethical and deserve support. A journalist’s job is to uncover uncomfortable truths. Unorthodox tactics are often needed to highlight misconduct. The open circulation of information is crucial to a healthy democracy. And Mahmood’s trial shows that reporters who go too far can be held to account.

Unscrupulous reporters must be reined in, critics respond. Journalists need sensational stories. They are engaged in destroying people, rather than conducting informed moral judgements about the public interest. Many reasonable people could have made the same comments as Allardyce; he has a right to feel aggrieved.

You Decide

  1. Would you have sacked Sam Allardyce?
  2. Are press ‘sting’ operations ethical?

Activities

  1. Work in groups of four. You are a group of journalists charged with writing a story about a public figure you suspect of wrongdoing. List some ways you could find out more information and the advantages and disadvantages of each method you think of.
  2. Write a letter to The Telegraph explaining why you think their sting was, or was not, justified.

Some People Say...

“If a story interests the public, it is in the public interest to print it.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t like football. Does Sam Allardyce’s future matter?
Whatever you think of football, the England manager has a significant public role. Some even call it ‘the second most important job in the country’. The standards to which he has been held reflect the expectations we have of public figures more widely — including people you do care about.
I don’t read the papers — I get my news from The Day. Should I care about their tactics?
In a healthy democracy, the media will reveal uncomfortable truths. This helps to stop powerful people abusing their positions and putting their own interests above those of people like you. But an unrestrained press can destroy lives and careers unfairly and make public positions unattractive. This harms people like you who rely on those jobs being done well.

Word Watch

Rules
Allardyce discussed third-party ownership arrangements, where players are part-owned by agencies as well as clubs. These are banned. Allardyce named agents who have avoided the rules ‘for years’ and told investors to ‘make sure they’ve got the ownership and the agent’.
Deal
Allardyce stressed on several occasions that the FA would need to accept any arrangement he reached.
Indiscretions
Allardyce mocked predecessor Roy Hodgson and gave frank views on subjects such as the redevelopment of Wembley, tax collection and the royal family.
Difficult
Oliver Kay of the Times disagreed, saying: ‘There is not even a non-smoking gun.’
MPs
In 1994 two Conservative MPs agreed to take money in exchange for asking questions in Parliament. In 2013 an MP accepted money for lobbying on behalf of Fiji’s military dictatorship.
Caught
Undercover officers posing as arms dealers caught Kazi Nurur Rahman, who tried to buy three Uzi guns, in 2007.
Throw out
In the UK, a case in 2001 established that the police must not give a suspect more than an ‘unexceptional opportunity’ to commit a crime.

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