I am writing this blog to try and celebrate the glorious nature of sporting competition, but I feel I have to focus my third entry on a controversy that has sadly reopened some of the wounds of the least glorious event in British sporting history – Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s ignorance about the Hillsborough disaster, as exposed this summer.
On the 15th April 1989 at an FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium there was a fatal crush which caused the death of 96 people. This remains the worst stadium disaster in British sporting history. The shocking and terrible events of that day caused a major rethinking of the way we watch sport in this country with the introduction of all-seater stadiums. The Taylor Report which investigated the disaster placed the majority of the responsibility on the failure of police control.
The disaster was obviously harrowing for all those connected to the Liverpool fans who died and were injured on that day, but was arguably made worse by the coverage and reporting of the event. False allegations were made against the conduct of Liverpool fans in the stadium, most explicitly by The Sun newspaper. In the week after the disaster the paper ran a front page article headlined THE TRUTH which alleged that Liverpool fans had pick pocketed the dead, urinated on police officers and generally obstructed the relief effort. These allegations, which came from an unnamed police officer source, ran counter to all other accounts of Liverpool fan’s behaviour on that day. The Sun eventually published an unreserved apology in 2004, but in many fan’s eyes the damage had already been done. The unfair criticism of the Liverpool fans and the 96 dead tarnished the reputation of those involved, and extended the grieving process of the friends and families of the deceased.
In an interview in July, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt praised the conduct of England fans following the World Cup in South Africa. He claimed that “the terrible problems” of “Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s seem now to be behind us.” To mention Hillsborough in the same breath as Heysel (which was caused by fan violence) and hooliganism demonstrates a deep ignorance of the controversy surrounding Hillsborough and is hugely disrespectful to those directly involved, and to football fans in general. Hunt has issued an apology saying, “I know that fan unrest played no part in the terrible events of April 1989.” It is fine to issue an apology after the event (like The Sun did) but it doesn’t mend the offence caused. With this level of ignorance over one of the most important moments in British sporting history I would argue that he is not fit to hold the office of Secretary of State in charge of sport.