Zouma fallout shows fan pressure on sponsors could hold key to change in football – but it has to be consistent

Opinions differ on a suitable punishment for the Frenchman’s disturbing animal cruelty but tougher action is only taken when the money seeps out of clubs, writes Laura Lawrence.

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Deep breath everyone, it’s time to deal with this week’s omnishambles in football. Cat kicking. Not something I thought I’d ever write about.

West Ham’s Kurt Zouma was filmed, by his brother Dagenham and Redbridge centre-back, Yoan, drop kicking his cat across his kitchen floor and later slapping the family pet’s head — and out of a child’s arms. The footage is disturbing.

For some, it’s not enough that Zouma has been fined two weeks’ wages, had his animals removed and sponsors such as Adidas have removed their endorsement of the player. There are plenty of people calling for him to be sacked.

This debate has led to an interesting side issue of moral relativism. Team-mate Michail Antonio asked for his opinion on the Zouma situation on Sky Sports News and he responded: “Is it worse than racism?”

Earlier former England goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland suggested that the incident was “possibly worse” than racism, which caused further backlashes. He later added in a Twitter video that “animals can’t defend themselves, they don’t have a voice” and that he of course deplores racism.

Vegans also entered the frame suggesting that if you eat animals you can’t complain about animal cruelty but I think we’ll leave that relativism for another day.

What is a suitable punishment for a footballer abusing an animal? Opinions certainly differ. Most think that the Frenchman should have at least been suspended but manager David Moyes selected Zouma to play the same evening that the footage surfaced. His reasoning was that the club deals with HR and he deals with football on the pitch. As one of West Ham’s best players Moyes justified his selection as part of his job to win games. As Raith Rovers found last week from their signing of rapist David Goodwillie, selecting players based on a purely “footballing decision” doesn’t get the reaction they hope for. Sponsors jumped the sinking ship quickly.

Naturalist and TV presenter, Chris Packham, weighed in and campaigned heavily against the Hammers’ player. The interesting thing is he targeted West Ham’s sponsors to force their hand into dealing with the issue, resulting in health insurers Vitality suspending their sponsorship with the club. Had more sponsors pulled out I suspect that the cost of Zouma’s wages and contributions on the pitch would have been weighed up against the revenue streams leaching out of the club. Morals, whether they’re relative or not, would have surfaced if the money had left.

Sponsors have a great deal of influence in matters like this. Their public image across social media is vital in the age of boycotting brands who don’t align with modern values. They could hold the key to forcing real change in football with pressure from fans. Packham’s relentless targeting of West Ham’s sponsors certainly had the desired effect. However, they have to be consistent in their approach when it comes to issues with human rights and the abuse of other protected characteristics.

Will Zouma be sacked? It’s unlikely but his animals are safe. If I were West Ham, I would be addressing his state of mind and looking into the safeguarding aspects of children witnessing abusive acts. Sponsors can’t deal with that.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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