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Guest Post – Cracking the Code


By Cordwainer Bull

A few weeks back I found myself drafting up a Code of Conduct for my club.

It’s something required as a component part of the Quality Club Mark award – a laudable New Zealand Football initiative aimed at promoting best practice in the way football is delivered and which in turn has been set as a pre-condition for northern league entry for 2017.

But engaging in this exercise prompted a more granular look at a document club members are already corralled into abiding by: The New Zealand Football Code of Conduct, which is automatically deemed to be imposed upon everyone participating in football activities and can be viewed HERE:

Click to access NZF__Code_of_Conduct.pdf

When players register they agree to abide by the NZ Football Code of Conduct, and acknowledge that any breach of any part of it may result in disciplinary action.

But in casting a critical eye over NZ Football’s Code of Conduct, the first thing that struck me was the impossibility of complying with it as someone who was both a volunteer administrator and, from time to time, employed as a journalist writing about football matters.

The key offending clause was this beauty: “Do not speak to any media in a negative way, or publish any negative comment (including on any website) regarding New Zealand Football or any of its Federations.”

Wow. That’s something that could have been written by Kim Jong Un (no disrespect, naturally).

Anyone reading this far down a football blog will appreciate the irony (and inherent risk) in making a negative comment about a code of conduct clause that says you are not allowed to make negative comments.

But we really do need to talk about this. As “media” it may be that I can’t even speak to myself about issues of the day that may be concentrating the mind of the game at large.

Think, for example, of the New Zealand U23 player ineligibility saga. If everybody within the game was restrained from expressing any sort of comment that was less than glowing about an episode that sullied the administrative reputation of the game here, what sort of parallel universe would we be living in?

Think also of the review of the northern league which is currently under way. How could we possibly understand the issues if we were prevented from digesting some of the criticisms of the past few years that have triggered it?

How could the game as a whole have a reliable base of knowledge from which to formulate opinion on what was right, and what was wrong with our methods of work, if we were only to hear the positive?

How could we form an opinion if nobody within the code could express an opinion – whether it be on a blog, in a news article, or on a forum – that reflected a negative view of the status quo?

I think we need more informed public debate about what is working, and what isn’t, in football. And media are part of that. Because when football people are talking about things, ideally the media should be also. And you can’t just paint things pink.

Essentially this code of conduct reflects a view that the media is not the place to be having such such discussions. But if we relied on national administrators or talking heads for an exclusive insight into what is occurring in the game, think how little we would know.

Football is a game of passionate opinions – positive and negative – and it is actually the sign of a healthy code to allow a free flow of ideas and robust comment in the public domain. We need more public debate about what is working, and what isn’t, not less.

In my view we need take a more mature view – and adopt a more nuanced policy with this clause, if it is ever to be enforced. (And if it is not to be enforced, what is the point?)

I’d lean more towards saying something like “Do not speak in a defamatory, libellous or slanderous manner about anyone or anything”.

But how did we end up adopting a code of conduct position that has such little tolerance for robust discussion and criticism, and so little appreciation of the role of the fourth estate in modern times?

It would appear this 2007 policy is mostly just a rushed cut and paste job from Swimming New Zealand (which is laughable when you consider that body’s dysfunctional relationship with media over the years).

Some of my other quibbles with the code of conduct are more straight forward.

The code says we are not to use “obscene language”. That’s fine up to a point, though perspectives on what exactly constitutes obscenity has concentrated some of the world’s finest legal minds, and disagreements are many.  Unless we are to table an appendix of obscenities to the code (which would be fun) this could be problematic. Insulting or abusive language might be a better phrase.  (I recall a ref once telling me it was far more insulting to be called a cheat than a motherfucker.)

The code of conduct should also set out clearly who hears or decides on reports of alleged breaches to the code. There shouldn’t be a need to trawl through policy manuals or regulations.

In my view the code should note that when assessing the seriousness of a breach, that the context within which the comments are made and the gravity of the offending comments must be taken into account.

The code should also include advice on procedure for appealing any decision – if there is indeed a right of appeal. If there is not, this should also be noted in the code.

Further, there should be a register of all Code of Conduct reports, decisions and appeals.

But that’s just me.

What I thought would be more worthwhile would be to try and harness the wider wisdom of the football fraternity. I wondered if it was possible, through readers here, to crowd-source and wordsmith far more practical, sensible and realistic code of conduct clauses.

Over to you.

[Cordwainer Bull is a former Waikato United and Sitter! fanzine columnist. His hobbies include collecting in-flight sick bags, noodling and poisoning mice. His favourite player was Billy Cakebread.]

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Enzo Giordani

An action photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand. I focus on sport, birds or cats depending on what stage of the apocalypse we're currently experiencing.

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