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Whataboutery and Liverpool
The debate in the mailbox about Liverpool’s recently reversed decision to furlough their staff has been quite conspicuous in its high-handed condemnation of ‘whataboutery’. It would be nice if most of those who use the term make a better effort to understand it. There are all kinds of situations where it is useful and totally legitimate to ask “What about X?” and many of the criticisms of Liverpool fall into that category.
I am not certain of its etymology but I first encountered the word ‘whataboutery’ while reading about The Troubles in Northern Ireland when opposing paramilitaries carried out swathes of retaliatory sectarian murders over several decades. Grief in one community after one of these crimes was often dismissed by the other side in perorations beginning with the words “What about…” which, as far as I know, gives us the ugly neologism discussed in this email. The worst partisans in that conflict would attempt to justify their side’s killings in this conflict by referring to past outrages and this gives the word its ugly connotations. Whataboutery has a bad name and it is deserved. However, its dismal reputation comes from the way it was used disingenuously to stir up support within embattled communities for violence rather than because it is always fallacious in argument.
A better example of the logically fallacious form of whataboutery would be a Liverpool fan responding to their critics with “What about Jose Mourinho’s training session?” rather than “What about Spurs’ furlough?”. Questions about how to deal with other clubs who have not only made the same initial decision as Liverpool but also stuck by it are a necessary examinations of those claim to be principled in their objections.
If you offer criticism of someone’s actions then the burden of proof is on you to justify that criticism if there is an objection as you are making a verifiable claims about the state of the real world.
If you are going to claim, as Liverpool’s critics tend to, that it is wrong in principle for clubs who can afford to pay their staff to take advantage of the furlough during this crisis then it needs to be applied to all clubs or it ceases to be a principle.
The chorus of criticism was far louder in Liverpool’s case than anyone else’s and at the time of writing remains so even though they are the only one of the five PL sides to reverse their decision so far. I think everyone would agree that the public uproar is the reason that Liverpool relented rather than some sort of private “come to Jesus” moment on the part of John Henry et al. A slate of clubs announced they would not take the furlough option in the wake of this outcry too. This is surely a good outcome if you object to rich clubs using the furlough as we now know there is an effective remedy for the problem.
Critics will try to deny it but Liverpool have been treated differently to Spurs, Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth because the criticism has been so much louder and it has continued despite the fact they are the only ones to recant. Perhaps individual readers know themselves to be consistent on these matters but there are people contributing loudly and frequently to this debate who want to indulge their hatred of Liverpool FC and have no other purpose; weeding out such people in order to ignore their trolling will require questioning their principles where they seem to be applied inconsistently. There are no public debates involving Liverpool where this is sad phenomenon is absent and clubs like Man Utd, City and Chelsea have the same nonsense to deal with whenever controversy arises.
If you object to Premier League sides taking the furlough and are still dwelling on Liverpool rather than agitating against the other sides who are doing this then you are wasting your own time and effort. Liverpool have already changed their minds and genuinely principled objectors would surely think time is better spent persuading the other four clubs to do the same. Being questioned on these subjects is not “whataboutery” even if the questions begin with the words “What about”. If you genuinely want to persuade people to your point of view based on logic and evidence then you would accept that questions of this nature are entirely relevant and come up with good answers to their substance rather than simply repeating a word you have likely learned only recent and don’t properly understand like Donald Trump does with the phrase “fake news”.
Why would any of this matter? It is depressing that I might have point out to some that you will have a more fruitful conversation with someone who genuinely wants to present ideas about how to deal with the furlough rather than someone whose only contribution is that they hate Liverpool and can’t contain themselves.
The only point of consensus in the current crisis is that its aftermath will see changes that are as profound as they are unpredictable. Football at the elite level already seemed on the verge of some sort of transformation anyway with Man City’s scorched earth tactics in their dispute with UEFA and the ever present greed of the other big clubs. It is hard to imagine after the last 30 years or so that these changes will benefit match going fans and fans based in England in general unless fans of all clubs unite and demand it. The fractiousness demonstrated here at a relatively minor issue at the very start of a prolonged crisis does not bode well for the way the game will develop when the worst of the pandemic has passed.
This means more
Okay, I feel I should explain and respond to Ryan (trying to sell/give away many kittens as my original plan was shitty) Whitehaven, with regards my original mail. I did not and do not condone FSG’s furlough decision, it insulted our club, our beliefs and everything the fans hold dear. What I was trying to do was separate the business decisions and those of the fans.
All business owners will do what they believe to be best for their club (which is why City’s owners are fighting their punishment), they aren’t there as supporters, they’re there to make money. They’re not there to make friends, they’re there to make money! We fans love the game and love our clubs and most will accept and back the decisions made by those in charge because they couldn’t possibly disagree or show discontent to the people that have brought their club greatness.
LFC fans, not for the first time, showed the owners that they will not sit back and let them do what they want with their club, they will let their disdain show and (also not for the first time) force them to reverse their decision. That is what makes LFC fans different to City, Spurs, West Ham etc (I deliberately disclose nufc because they’ve made it perfectly clear how they feel, the owner simply doesn’t give a shit). This is what makes me praise the change of decision and the club’s stance, the fans’ reaction… NOT the owners.
Marcel G, LFC
John Nicholson’s dream
This situation has turned into a dream scenario for John Nicholson. He can finally tout his strangely-crafted manifesto and he thinks he has a great opportunity to garnish some support. But there are a couple of idiotic ideas in his argument
The “Government” is tasked with buying up the broadcast rights to football to make it available on free-to-air TV? When what, only 5% of the population watch the sport? (Unless you want to cite England vs. Croatia in the 2018 World Cup, so don’t try that one). Why doesn’t “the government” buy up the rights to golf, rugby, cricket, any professional sport? Why football? Why not the “Great British Bake-Off” for good measure?
What is an “affordable” ticket price? If you’re broke, free is that price point. So “affordable for everyone” is a completely ridiculous ideal. “From each, according to his ability, to each according to his needs” rings empty when you’re talking about professional sports. Let’s say I’m homeless and want to go to watch Chelsea. What’s my price point? And would I rather the government, instead of buying the rights to the Premier League to put it on the TV, instead used that money for support and shelters for people like me?
One thing I find interesting is the number of marginal sports fleeing to Chapter 11 Bankrupcy protection, which tells me they should not be wholly professional in the first place. USA Rugby was one of the first to file. What happened to part-time athletes? You have a job, then you train, then you play at the top level of your sport. I’m not hearing a whole lot from Megan Rapinoe recently shouting for equal pay when her league is folding. She’s earning $450,000 a year without sponsorship add-ins. I’m sure a lot of other players would like an equal-pay deal for that amount of money.
That’s the real leveler that John has missed. No-one has a “right” to play a sport at a professional level unless there are people like he and I paying to watch it. There are plenty of people happy to pay to watch sports, whether Premier League or amateur league where those clubs are self-sustaining. It might be from tractor sponsors or bake sales, it doesn’t matter. There are many, many more who won’t watch a sport where the players and the clubs are subsidised to the detriment of others.
We all have a moral compass. I think John needs to look at his and he might find it might need re-calibrating, because it’s always pointing in the same direction – self-righteous.
Steve, Los Angeles
…Over the last few weeks and months, I have read with interest John Nicholson’s socialist rants. His ideas about a minimum wage for players etc. Throughout it all I have been quizzically thinking how he intended to keep the players in this country if someone else were willing to pay more. After all, in JN’s dream country there would be no free movement of people and therefore we would all be forced into taking what we would get. I’m not sure what we would call it. Maybe something that would normally allow easy access like a curtain but then then made of something non-permeable like iron. An Iron Curtain, that seems a good name.
In his latest piece he reveals that there may be an exodus of players. No shit Sherlock! These players would leave the UK and Europe to countries who are less egalitarian in their views. Maybe countries that are more left leaning in their views. A country that is a sports writer’s utopia where every individual is forced to buy books about football decrying the evils of capitalism.
Of course, now if we want to watch the best footballing action, we will have to pay huge sums in rouble or yuan from the comfort of our armchairs.
The game in this country will be run as a collective. That’s a great socialist word isn’t it. An anarcho-syndicalist commune (to quote Monty Python). It will be illegal for agents to be paid by a club. I’m not sure that any player will be able to afford to pay an agent. If wages are governed by a percentage of the turnover of the poorest club (looking at say Macclesfield with a turnover of less than £2m) doesn’t amount to much when divided by the members of the squad. Any percentage of this divided by a squad of 20 or so will leave only the most undesirable players on our shores.
If they did stay, how would they keep up the payments on their current house? Of course, we would all live in the same size apartment apart from the new leaders of this glorious nation who deserve a bigger house because of the hard work they do. How would the players afford to make the payments on their cars? Or course, we would all drive the same car presumably made out of tractor parts. Apart from our esteemed leaders (and maybe right-thinking sports journalists) who need a bigger car to attend the ballet.
I have no doubt that once this crisis is passed many aspects of our lives will have changed including football. However, I would like to make a wager that it in no way mirrors JN’s model!
Mesut missing again
I enjoyed reading Matt Stead’s ‘The progression of the Premier League’s highest-paid player‘, but I couldn’t help noticing Mesut Ozil went missing again.
Thank you to Matt Stead for highlighting the weekly pain of every Arsenal fan! 🙂
Keirse Knight, AFC!