FA launches code of conduct to crack down on England players, but will it be tough enough?

The Football Association will introduce a code of conduct for England players which could bring suspensions for serious offences.

Roy Hodgson’s players were given a PowerPoint presentation about the code by Adrian Bevington, the managing director of Club England, at their new St George’s Park base which explained that warnings remain a likely deterrent but that suspensions were an option.

Having consulted with the Rugby Football Union and the England and Wales Cricket Board about their codes for players, the FA aims to have its version signed by the squad before next month’s friendly with Sweden in Stockholm. The FA Board and all the England coaches, including Roy Hodgson and Hope Powell, have approved it.

After Bevington made his 10-minute presentation, Hodgson stood up to reinforce the message about the need for players to behave. It was also echoed by the FA chairman, David Bernstein, who said: “The England players are representing their country, they’re role models, their behaviour is incredibly important in respect of everything else we’re trying to do.”

“I feel very strongly about that. It should really have been brought in years and years ago. Clearly in the past we’ve been hampered by not having a code and some things have been less clear than they might have been.’’

The code is not a reaction to the misdemeanours of Ashley Cole, who abused the FA on Twitter, and John Terry, who retired from England on the eve of the Independent Regulatory Commission tribunal that found him guilty of making a racist comment to Anton Ferdinand. It has been mooted for some time. The code has three sections: first, general conduct, whether with England or not; second, conduct when the player is with England; third, how the FA will manage the pro­cess of breach or alleged breach.

“If someone transgresses in a way that brings the integrity of the team or themselves or the organisation into question, we have the ability to warn them, or if we deem it appropriate, under significant circumstances, to suspend them from England,” said Bevington. The players will now be subject to the Club England code as well as the FA disciplinary process which is currently dealing with Cole and Terry.

The toughness of the new code remains to be seen. Bernstein was asked whether “in a multi-cultural, multi-racial society, can a player found guilty of racially abusing an opponent play for England?”

Bernstein paused before saying that it was “hypothetical”, and the FA is sensitive of making any pronouncement while the Terry disciplinary saga remains ongoing. But the FA needs to make it clear in the code whether such an offence – making a racist remark to an opponent – automatically precludes a player from England duty (as most right-minded people think it should).

“The code of conduct doesn’t contain a tariff and you’re asking me to anticipate a tariff,’’ said Bernstein. “It’s definitely an offence within that code of conduct.”

The code will address use of Twitter. “Social media can be a very powerful vehicle for footballers when used in the right way,’’ said Bevington. “We’ve explained to the players that that’s absolutely fine by us, but please understand that if you’re using Twitter when you’re with the team you should do so in conjunction with the team’s media officers. When you’re not with the team, clearly you should avoid any criticism of any organisations or individuals.’’

With 5.1million followers, Wayne Rooney is the country’s most followed sportsman on Twitter. “It brings a sense of responsibility,’’ said the Manchester United striker. “I do get a bit of stick on it but I try and leave it and not get involved. You obviously know everything you put on there is seen by everyone who follows you and it will be in the newspapers the next day so you have to be careful.”

Cole, who has 443,000 followers, has shown remorse for his recent tweet about the FA. He was even able to laugh about it with the president of the FA, Prince William, at the official opening of St George’s Park yesterday. “If you continue to be a naughty boy they’ll take your Twitter account off you!’’ the Prince told Cole.

Cole had been in penitent mood on Monday evening. “Ashley Cole came to see me, which was very unusual,’’ said Bernstein. “He was very contrite and emphasised that what he’d done was in the heat of the moment. He had publicly apologised and withdrawn the Tweet as quickly as he could.

“I believe he has been punished by Chelsea and he’s been charged by the FA. Our strong view was that it was unfortunate, and something we viewed very seriously, but that it wasn’t a capital offence. The idea of not allowing him to play for England would have been disproportionate. I think the public will be happy to see the manager have the decision and I am happy with that.”

Bevington added a rider: “It doesn’t mean that as an organisation we will always say it’s the manager’s final call but where possible we will try to reach that decision.”

Hodgson was relieved the stand-off between Cole and the FA was over. “No one could question his commitment to the shirt, which makes his contrition the greater that he might have put his position in jeopardy,’’ said Hodgson. “I’m glad he hasn’t done that.”

Hodgson could still leave Cole out against San Marino, making a point to the full-back while also resting him for the more important game against Poland in Warsaw next Tuesday. “I know when I make a decision there’ll be some disappointed people even if they do accept I may need some fresh people to play against Poland,’’ said Hodgson.

“Arguably, anyone I pick from this 22 should be enough to win the game against San Marino because we are sky-high favourites to win.’’

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