LONDON: English football has been pushed back – not for the first time – on to a collision course with world federation FIFA by the threat of legislation over the domestic game’s governance writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
A three-year inquiry by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has come up with a conclusion, self-evident ever since 1888, that the Football Association and the main professional league struggle to work in harmony.
The only difference between today’s ‘playing field’ and the one which existed up until the creation of the FA Premier League in 1992 is in organisational positioning.
Whereas the old, original Football League was a separate entity, sitting outside the FA, the Premier League sits on the inside.
The conclusion of the committee is that the professional tail is wagging the governing dog. Hence the FA should introduce – or speed up – reforms within a year or the government may legislate to impose change.
Quite how the law can force the professional and grassroots sectors to embrace each other is impossible to comprehend. FIFA, whose statutes preclude government interference in the affairs of national associations, would take a dim view.
Government interference elsewhere in the world – from Nigeria to Poland to Thailand – has promoted FIFA to threaten suspension from the world game which would, at its most extreme, shut England out from the World Cup and bar its clubs from the Champions and Europa Leagues.
Constructive response needed
This, to be fair, remains a very long way off. Sports minister Hugh Robertson, who once described football as “the worst-governed sport in Britain”, hopes that both the 150-year-old FA and the Premier League will offer an enlightened and constructive response.
The MPs’ have outlined concerns not only about the balance of power between the Premier League and the FA but about the clubs’ erratic financial management and lack of ownership transparency.
Robertson said: “The report . . . shows the will there is across Parliament for football to modernise and change for the better. We have been clear that we want the football authorities to carry out the reforms they promised by the start of the 2013-14 season – most notably around improved governance and diverse representation at the FA, the development of a licensing system and greater financial transparency.
“If football does not deliver then we will look at bringing forward legislation.”
The FA, Premier League and Football League responded in a statement: “Significant headway has already been made on many of these proposed reforms, not least on sustainability and transparency.
“The remaining reform proposals are the subject of consultation within the game and we are confident that the necessary progress will be made.”
The committee issued its first report in July 2011 prompting the government to propose a restructuring of the FA board, the implementation of an FA-administered licensing system for the professional game and significant changes to the make-up and processes of “football’s parliament”, the FA Council.
Committee chairman John Whittingdale MP said: “While some progress has been achieved, much greater reform in football is needed to make the game inclusive, sustainable and driven from the grassroots, where it should be.
“The proposals for reform so far don’t address the fundamental problems: the licensing model, the way supporters are engaged at club level and the membership of the main board, which is not fully representative or able to balance interests adequately.”
Some changes have been introduced, notably through a first woman in Heather Rabbatts joining the FA board as a non-executive independent member. But other proposals were rejected last October by the FA Council which feared ceding authority to the professional game.
But the committee pinpointed a worry that the concerns and interests of fans were being ignored, to the long-term detriment of the health of English football.
Clive Effort MP, Labour’s shadow minister for sport, said: “The involvement of fans is essential for the future vitality of the game and there is a worrying trend as financial interests take hold that the game is becoming remote from the communities from which the clubs originated.”
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