Right-wing party pay for hoarding
27 October ~ Conference Premier side Kidderminster Harriers attracted unwanted attention last week after agreeing to advertise the local UKIP Wyre Forest branch on a hoarding at their Aggborough ground. The decision has reportedly led to the resignation of the Kidderminster Harriers Independent Supporters Trust's press officer and a number of sponsors and supporters considering a boycott. In response, the club released a statement stressing they were politically neutral, had commercial links with other parties and “regard the support from UKIP locally in exactly the same way”.
While there is no reason to doubt the validity of this statement, it comes across as surprisingly naive. The perception of UKIP in this country is, to put it mildly, unfavourable, and it seems inconceivable the club are unaware of this. The timing of the deal is also unfortunate, after it was recently announced that UKIP's leader, Nigel Farage, had agreed a dubious alliance with Polish MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz, whose Congress of The New Right party has links with racism and Holocaust denial.
A number of people have argued that as UKIP are a legitimate political organisation, it would be flying in the face of democracy to ban them from advertising at a sports ground. However, this rather misses the point that as a privately run football club, Kidderminster Harriers have every right to choose who they do and don't do business with. In this case, it seems a non-League club, who in August made a public plea for more investment, are simply taking advantage of a funding opportunity rather than making a misguided gesture about freedom of speech.
The problem is, at what cost? To dismiss such a controversial relationship as a simple financial transaction is to alienate those who have legitimate concerns about UKIP's policies. Moreover, there is a danger of compromising involvement in national or local anti-discriminatory initiatives, if you are seen to be “promoting” an inflammatory right-wing ideology. Then again, there is the question of where football draws the line. This is an industry heavily financed by alcohol and gambling advertising, which some people may find equally abhorrent. Is this form of revenue generation somehow more ethically viable and less divisive?
It would be easy to say that football and politics should be kept separate but this would misrepresent the long-standing quid pro quo relationship the two institutions have. In some cases, such as shadow health secretary Andy Burnham's role in launching a new Hillsborough inquiry, this relationship transcends public relations or financial gain. The key is for clubs to understand the wider context of their dealings – short-term benefits need to be measured against long-term consequences. Mike Bayly