Martin Glenn, the chief executive of the English Football Association, has responded to criticism of a tweet the FA sent out earlier this week welcoming home its womens’ team from the Women’s World Cup, which many Twitter users derided as “sexist” and “patronizing.”
The tweet read: “Our #Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title — heroes: the-fa.com/wqavCo.” It was soon deleted, but not before many people had taken screenshots, and criticised the football body for belittling the team.
Speaking at advertising trade body ISBA’s annual lunch in London on Tuesday, Glenn responded to a question from the audience about the football association’s Twitter practices.
Echoing the Football Association’s official statement about the tweet, he said it had been “taken out of context.”
Glenn said: “To me, it’s … a classic first lesson. It was taken out of context. I don’t know if you saw the scandal around it, but we did a nice press release for the team coming home. They were all desperate to get back to, you know, their homes and families — they had been in hotel beds for the last couple of weeks — and the tweet of that summary, 140 characters, says … basically, the girls can’t wait to get back to being mum. That was perceived as being sexist.”
He went on to say: “The defence from the ‘Twit’ of ours: They said it was taken out of context. Even I know the context of 140 characters, so it was just a mistake.”
But Glenn said the outrage about the tweet in question told the FA that it was dealing with a bigger perception problem.
“When you think FA, you think of an old man, reactionary, [wearing a] blue blazer … The FA has been a reactionary organisation … so you’re conditioned to cut no slack [when it makes a mistake,]” Glenn said.
“Had Apple said it, had Google said it, had Sainsbury’s said it, they might have been [saying] ‘well it was pretty unfortunate, but I know what it meant’,” he added.
Glenn, a marketer by trade, who only joined the FA in May — from United Biscuits, where he was previously CEO — is clearly seen by the board as the man to help rid the football association of its dusty reputation.
Much of Glenn’s speech ahead of the Q&A section had been focused on the success of the England Ladies Football team, who surpassed expectations to come third at the Women’s World Cup in Vancouver.
Glenn was appealing to the marketers and advertising agency executives in the audience to think about lending their support to the women’s game, saying that the ROI [return on investment] for every £1 spent on women’s football is higher than that for men’s football.
“2.6 million viewers watched the semi-final [of the Women’s World Cup] at 1am. That tells you something,” Glenn said.
Martin Glenn on FIFA’s image problem
He also responded to a question about how potential sponsors may have been put off the wider game of football owing to the FIFA corruption scandal that erupted earlier this summer. He was asked whether the World Cup sponsors should have responded sooner, putting more pressure on FIFA to get its house in order.
Glenn said: “I would say I think they belatedly did, in my impression. We don’t know what it was that triggered Sepp Blatter, after he was re-coronated [as president,] to a week after saying he was about to stand down. There [were] rumours that some of the big brands had been instrumental in saying there had been a lack of confidence.”
He went on to describe the Women’s World Cup Final, where the “whole stadium” of 55,000 people booed when the announcer said representatives from FIFA were about to present the trophy.
“I guess the question for the big sponsors is: How much do you want to be associated with that? Because certainly in the western European and North American markets, FIFA has a bad name,” Glenn said, although he added that in certain African and Asian markets this is less of a problem, and people appreciate the governing body as a “fantastically good, successful machine for redistributing wealth.”
However, he ended his response by saying that the good news he took from being at the Women’s World Cup was that “football is so powerful a product” that the agenda quickly gets back to the right thing — the game — rather than a focus on governance issues.
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