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Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Twit on Twitter? Sepp Blatter & Rio Ferdinand's public spat

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert:
Southampton, Nov 26th

The last ‘On the Social’ focused on unknown individuals hiding behind a Twitter shield to racially abuse players (this is a trend that unfortunately shows few signs of abating with James Vaughan and Fraizer Campbell the latest ‘victims’ reporting abuse to the police).  This article will remain focused on the main topic but will feature two far more recognisable names and their use of Twitter.

With Anton Ferdinand being one of the key figures at the centre of the row, it should come as no surprise that brother – and serial tweeter – Rio (@rioferdy5) should wade in to the discussion.  Although Rio was very careful not to talk specifics – he is one of the more professional Twitter users and typically knows where the boundaries lie – he jumped in with two feet as soon as an interview with FIFA president Sepp Blatter was aired.

Blatter’s widely publicised comments provoked an immediate response from Rio, with a general tweet “Tell me I have just read Sepp Blatter's comments on racism in football wrong....if not then I am astonished”.  However, this didn’t seem to let off enough steam and his next question to his 1.6million followers – asking whether Blatter was on Twitter (he is) – was answered in the affirmative by hundreds who were starting to smell a ‘Twitter-fight’ brewing!

Ferdinand immediately set about confronting Blatter via Twitter, tweeting him directly with “your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?

He followed this by responding to a photo FIFA – clearly sensing a PR disaster – had placed on their website’s homepage of Blatter with South African Tokyo Sexwale, a former inmate of Robben Island and now a sitting member of FIFA’s fair play committee, intimating they should be embarrassed at such a token effort at negating the row.

This is when Blatter reacted, accusing Ferdinand of patronising Sexwale and being ignorant of both Sexwale’s importance in the fight against racism and the huge strides Blatter himself has helped nurture as President in recent years.  He then tweeted several more general statements to defend himself and try to put himself back on an even keel, although essentially repeating the initial statement that caused the furore in the first place: “Racism and discrimination of any kind have no place in football. I have said this many times before, and I will say it again and again…However, and it is not an excuse - sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things are said and done on the field of play which are wrong

Ferdinand retorted with a series of tweets left unanswered by Blatter “to say what you said about racism in football spoke volumes of your ignorance to the subject….. If we want 2 stamp out racism in society a football pitch is a good place to start - loved by billions of people around the world”

And that was that.  So, why the fuss?  When you take a step back and think about this, this was the president of the game’s ruling body getting involved in a tit-for-tat bicker with one of the game’s most famous players – and all in the public domain. 

If you work for any medium-to-large sized company, just imagine for a second your Chief Executive getting involved in an argument with a senior manager on emails being sent to ‘All Users’.  Then multiply that by about a million to take into account football’s media and popularity status.  I had a mental image of Blatter’s advisors man-handling him and dragging him away from his desk whilst he clung on with his fingernails, desperately trying to write more!

This was without doubt the most high profile ‘conversation’ in the football world since Twitter came into being and once again Twitter was actually providing the news.  TV and written press alike led on this story for the following 24 hours and this whole episode simply couldn’t have come to the fore in quite the same way a few years ago. 

If you’re not yet on Twitter then you’re missing out!

The Exiled Robin (@TheExiledRobin)

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