The FA forgot the community role of football for fear of getting the wrong royal response | Sean Ingle

DIn the Middle Ages, flagellants removed their white robes adorned with a red cross, knelt on the ground, and then whipped themselves vigorously in public displays of fervor. Some sports seem to have taken notes. Since the Queen’s death we’ve seen the FA shut down grassroots football, the Premier League asking for a 70-minute clap to celebrate the length of Elizabeth II’s reign, and British Cycling bizarrely telling people not to ride for the state funeral, before make a quick U-turn. They are some of the biggest beasts in British sport. And they look fried.

Fried because such decisions were not based on logic, public sentiment or the advice of the government – which stressed that there was no obligation to cancel or postpone events during the period of national mourning – but a nebulous and ill-defined feeling of wanting to do “the right thing”.

Yet no one was telling the sport to stop. In fact, when I spoke to senior officials on the evening of the Queen’s death, they expected most of them, including the Premier League, to carry on. Twelve hours later, the fear of being wrong had persuaded football, boxing and cycling to pull the plug.

Why? This is partly due to a shyness and deference to the royal family, not just in sport but in society as a whole, that seems timeless. Perhaps the best explanation for what we have seen in the past 11 days came from a senior BBC News executive over 25 years ago when asked by the Guardian about the Queen’s death plans mother. “The view is that the people you would upset by not exaggerating about his death would be upset for longer – and with more consequences – than the people you would upset by overreacting about it,” he said. he answered.

This, however, has been the blueprint for every major royal funeral since.

In one breath, cover your buttocks. With the next, bow your head. Damn the silent majority.

But surely there was a silent majority for a modest, low-key response – a minute of silence, accompanied by a few well-chosen words of tribute – before breaking down. The day after the Queen died, when I asked on Twitter if the sport should continue, over 90% of those polled said yes. While such polls don’t always reflect the public’s mood – after all, a sportswriter will tend to have a lot of followers who love sports – the general attitude on social media was that sports should go on.

England's drawstring in action in the third Test between England and South Africa days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II
The third Test between England and South Africa resumed on Saturday September 10, but no football was played that day. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

In place, football was the first to slam its doorseven though his decision meant that children deprived of activity during the pandemic could not play, and those who depended on match-day income were also left without short-term work.

A dad told me he went for a ride with his son and daughter, only to find that all the goal posts had been locked together so they couldn’t be used. When two Sheffield & District Fair Play League teams posted photos of a friendly match they played on the same day, they were accused of ‘disrespectful and despicable behaviour’ by their league chairman for ignoring the ban from the base. Yet at the same time matches at local cricket, hockey and rugby clubs continued.

Football’s defence, at least officially, was that other sports had suspended events on Fridays to allow for mourning, when he had no such opportunity. But three sources at a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport meeting insist Prince William’s role as FA chairman was also mentioned as a factor. Another consideration, less publicly expressed, was the potential right-wing media reaction if football went bad.

But football should have had more backbone. There will always be idiots following the game, because there will always be idiots in society. A hundred years from now, some Celtic fans might still be holding banners criticizing the royal family. A pocket of Liverpool fans can still boo the national anthem. And the next day some publications will foam and sputter. So, how are you.

What made football’s decision stranger, as writer Patrick Kidd pointed out, was that in 1952 it was pretty much the only sport not to be canceled on the death of George VI , with the matches continuing, prefaced by the anthem and Abide With Me. It was, according to the FA, “a simple and heartfelt tribute”.

Of course, there will always be different interpretations of how a nation should mourn. However, in these eyes, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the golf of the European Tour and the two codes of rugby succeeded in bringing the crowds together during this first weekend by not postponing its meetings.

As the Rugby Football Union explained in a statement, which also stressed that the overwhelming majority of supporters wanted to continue playing: “Rugby, at its heart, is about community and bringing people together, in the good times and sad… With families and friends coming together, it will help us to unite in this moment of national mourning. They and others were right.

We can only hope that the less courageous were taking notes. The smart ones should already write up a version of this RFU statement for the death of King Charles III, along with a sensible plan for how they will react. Adhering to that tired old cliché, staying calm and carrying on, probably isn’t a bad place to start.

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