It has long been the case in football that managers are fined by the Football Association for what are deemed unacceptable comments made after a match and it has become a good source of income for them in recent years. The comments that attract the FA’s attention generally relate to refereeing decisions and the performance of match officials.
It is a requirement on managers that they must give post-match interviews and in the case of live matches on TV, these interviews have to be done almost immediately after a match when emotions are often still raw.
The TV interviewer will always pick up on controversial decisions in a match and the net effect of a manager answering the questions honestly is a letter and a fine from the FA. Some managers do decline to answer questions about officials, so they avoid a fine, so it often makes the purpose of the question redundant. Surely it is for the viewer and the pundits to hear the manager’s views and decide who is right and who is wrong, and I don’t think it is right to use the fine system to effectively gag managers. The manager speaks for the club and the team and has a right to speak openly.
In recent years the more cutting and intrusive the questions the better the interview is seen to be. Tennis used to be a sport immune from such an approach and interviewers always appeared to me to be very respectful of the interviewee.
That myth was perhaps blown out of the water last week when Japanese player Naomi Osaka exited the French Open not because she lost a game, not because she was injured but because she declined to do a media interview and was fined heavily for doing so. Naomi cited concern for her mental health and the fact that her ongoing struggle with depression could be triggered by having to face the media and dealing with critical questioning. As with football it is a contractual requirement of the Grand Slam tournaments that players must attend post-game interviews.
In a sport where individuals compete against one another it is tough for a player to come out straight after a match and respond to questions which often are a criticism of their performance. Modern day journalists will argue it is their job to ask searching questions and in the case of live TV events, they do pay a lot of money to get the access they require.
It does seem wrong to me that someone has exited a major competition without losing a match and because of fear for her mental well-being. The $15,000 she was fined for refusing to do an interview after her first-round win and the threat of a ban from the sport in a joint letter from the organisers of the four grand slam tournaments seems very heavy handed. She needs help more than admonishment.
I for one don’t want to see football managers gagged by fines and I don’t want to see a top tennis player suffer mental health problems and be fined for a fear of the effect on her of negative interviewing techniques. Where does all this money in fines end up anyway? In the modern-day, post-match interviews and punditry has become as important as the actual matches.
I believe in free speech and I believe in the right of any individual not to do something that may impact on their mental health. Food for thought perhaps for those that run top level sport.
Peter Varney, Chariman – Integral Sports Management
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