Opinion: Leader - FA must refocus on football's positives

In this issue we recount the experience of a PRWeek journalist who spent three days on the road with Football Association comms director Adrian Bevington and England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Bevington is the man at the sharp end of the media's insatiable desire for football stories, whether they are clearly within the FA's remit (the England team's preparation), peripheral (Chelsea allegedly tapping up ival players in restaurants) or tangential (Wayne Rooney's off-field antics).

The pressure on the FA's comms function is now immense, hardly helped by last year's annus horribilis when chief executive Mark Palios resigned during a sex scandal. So how has the FA reacted? Has it boosted its press office to incorporate a crisis management team; appointed a celebrity PRO; hired more agencies?

No. Surprisingly, the FA has a comms team of just six. It has also whittled down its array of associated agencies - alleged to have numbered 17 under former chief Adam Crozier. This is because under new chief executive Brian Barwick, the FA is very sensibly defining the boundaries of its role. After all, this is a not-for-profit body, whose only real commitments are to the game itself and the fans.

The FA has identified the core areas of its comms - the England team, the FA Cup, the national stadium and the grassroots game - and is learning not to be drawn into every 'soccer scandal' dug up by tabloids.

Its biggest challenge, however, is to communicate exactly what the FA is for. This is more poignant than ever, as recent newspaper reports reveal declining participation in the amateur game. Here the FA can make a real difference, bringing inpublic affairs expertise to encourage government investment and generating stories on the positive aspects of the game.

It faces the difficulty of extricating itself from the 'sexy' stories in order to focus on the proactive grind of rebuilding football's real value to society.

Feature, p22.

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