Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Hugh Robertson MP and Henry Burgess
26 April 2011
Q760 Chair: Can I welcome
for the second part of this morning's session the Minister for
Sport, Hugh Robertson, and Henry Burgess of the DCMS. Adrian Sanders
is going to start.
Q761 Mr Sanders: Good
morning. Can I ask, what was your rationale for calling English
football "the worst-governed sport in the country"?
Hugh Robertson: The fact that
when I looked at the corporate governance arrangements that govern
major sports in this country, in particular the big five, the
corporate governance arrangements surrounding the Football Association
are noticeably worse than they are in other sport. They had no
independent non-executive directors on their main board, despite
the recommendations of the Burns Review. At the time I made the
remark, I think there was some doubt that they would even get
an independent non-executive chairman. Every single one of their
directors is white, male and late middle-aged, at the risk of
being a little bit indelicate. There is nobody on the board who
has played the game to any reasonable level, no women, nobody
who represents the black or minority ethnic communities.
In addition, we have just had a very disappointing
World Cup campaign in South Africa. We had spent £15 million
launching a bid to bring the World Cup back to this country and,
after two years' lobbying and £15 million, had succeeded
solely in garnering one extra vote, apart from our own. In addition,
the Chairman of the Football Foundation has just resigned in despair
at the politicking going on in and around the game. I have lost
count of the number of Government reviews, football taskforces,
letters exchanged between the Secretary of State and the football
authorities, Burns reviews and the rest that come and go, and
yet there has been no substantive change. I think I would be right
in saying the evidence is pretty clear.
Q762 Mr Sanders: So what
exactly are your powers to do something about it?
Hugh Robertson: Well, that is
a good question, and I think as the Minister, you probably have
two reasonable areas of responsibility. The first is that any
Minister for Sport should have at the centre of his brief the
performance of the national team. So I think if our national teams
are under-performing, then it is perfectly reasonable for the
Minister to ask the question why.
I think secondly, we invest quite a considerable
amount of public money in football, and so I think it is my responsibility
as the Minister to make sure that the corporate governance arrangements
surrounding the spending of that money are as they ought to be.
Thirdly, of course football is the national
game. It is way ahead of any other game in this country in terms
of the number of people who play it and follow it, so it would
have to be a concern for the Minister for Sport if he didn't feel
that that game was correctly governed.
Q763 Mr Sanders: But
you sound pretty convincing that something has to be done. The
question is what can be done by a Minister for Sport for a game
that is self-governing?
Hugh Robertson: Well, in that
we could, in extremis, pass legislation, as indeed a number of
other countries have done. That would be, in my view, a last resort.
I think there is a fine line between where Government can go and
where it cannot, and it is emphatically not for Government to
run football, absolutely emphatically not. I think it is for Government
to make sure that football is in the best possible condition to
run itself. So I think I certainly have an influencing and persuading
role. You certainly could not accuse me of not making my views
clear on this particular subject. If indeed we judge in the end
of that the situation is so bad and so immovable that legislation
is the only way, some form of sports lawas in the case
in many other countries around the worldthen that would
be an option we would have to consider.
Q764 Paul Farrelly: Just
following on from that question, which is that your views are
quite clear, but your solutions are not.
Hugh Robertson: No, and that is
a perfectly good point. I do have my own views about it, but just
to be very clear about the role that I think you are playing in
all of this, successive governments have tried to crack this particular
nut, whether it was by letters from Andy Burnham or the Burns
Review or football taskforces or so on and so forth. Many of the
journalists who cover this area keep on saying, "Where is
the evidence that anything is going to change this time around?"
So where I think we are in a different situation now, my hallelujah
moment was a Wednesday morning back last July, when I turned up
at Westminster Hall to reply to the 9.30am debate. The chief whip
always used to say if you have more than 10 MPs at the Westminster
Hall debate early on a Wednesday morning, something was in the
water. There were over 60 there to complain about football governance.
It has been the single recurrent issue raised by Members of this
House, and indeed, in all the correspondence we have received
since that moment. There is a real feeling in Parliament that
something should be done about it.
The options available to me to move this on
were either to have another internal Government review, or to
encourage you, the Select Committee, as the parliamentary Committee
responsible for this, to have a look into the whole affair. I
was delighted when you agreed to take that on. I don't want to
sit here and outline necessarily all my particular solutions.
I want to wait and see what you come up with and then have the
opportunity to respond to it. Indeed, I think that is in both
our interests to do that. I don't want to
Paul Farrelly: I think it is in our interests
throughout the session on the different subjects, because we are
all well versed how Governments respond to Select Committee inquiries,
and respectfully, Minister, if you don't outline your solutions,
this might be a rather large waste of time.
Hugh Robertson: No, I don't think
it will at all, because I would hope at the end of your inquiry,
you will come forward with a series of solutions. I would be very
surprised if those solutions did not address the corporate governance
arrangements surrounding the FA, and then the sort of slightly
clever flip that has to be done thereafter, which is once you
have sorted out the corporate governance arrangements around the
FA, how you re-empower them to act as a proper sport national
governing bodyfootball is a very different game to the
game that it was 20, 30, 40 years agoand then the impact
of that on the other bodies that exist in the football landscape.
Paul Farrelly: I want
to come in a moment to what is in the coalition
Hugh Robertson: It is about the
regulatory architecture, I think is quite a good phrase.
Paul Farrelly: But first of all, just
on what powers you have that Adrian introduced, when Andy Burnham
looked at this with the taskforce years ago, he had some leverage,
because he had the Office of Fair Trading inquiry and the issue
of how football TV rights are sold, and out of those negotiations
came the Football Foundation. I wanted to just ask you about the
Football Foundation, but I don't want to steal the glory of my
colleague, Thérèse Coffey, who has an issue about
the Football Foundation, which she might want to introduce now.
Q765 Dr Coffey: The query
about the Football Foundation is that I understand that Government
money to Sport England is a third, Premier League is a third and
the FA is a third, and there have been various criticisms about
the lack of financing towards the Football Foundation; you have
just mentioned the Chairman resigning, politicking. Who is it
that initiates the actual funding amounts and is it only the FA
or can the Government through Sport England say, "Instead
of only giving £5 million" or whatever it is, "Sport
England is going to give £20 million, so that means the FA
has to give £20 million and the Premier League has to give
Hugh Robertson: There are two
separate funding sources. The first is the funding that goes directly
to the Football Foundation, and currently £10 million from
us, £12 million from the FA and the Premier League. There
is then a second chunk of Government money that goes into the
FA through something called Whole Sport Plans. That is, over the
2009 to 2013 period, some £25.6 million.
Q766 Dr Coffey: So it
is my understanding though that the contributions effectively
match each other, so if you wanted to see more money go into grassroots,
why don't you just up the money going into the Football Foundation?
Hugh Robertson: If I could, I
would, Thérèse. We don't have the money is the short
answer to that. When we were faced with the
Dr Coffey: Can I clarify just on the
agreement then? So you are capped because of financial constraint,
I get that.
Hugh Robertson: Yes.
Dr Coffey: Does that then limit what
the FA and the Premier League can do?
Hugh Robertson: No, it doesn't,
in the event.
Dr Coffey: No, not from your understanding?
Hugh Robertson: No. I mean, if
either the FA or the Premier League decided out of the goodness
of their hearts to increase their contributions to £20 million,
I would be absolutely delighted. It is just that we in Government
at the moment, in the current financialif I had the money,
I would do that, because I think the Football Foundation does
absolutely fantastic work, it is just that in the currentwe
managed to get it into what we call "the preserved pot"
so we took only a tiny cut off it, but the fact is given the spending
constraints, we had to give it a cut.
Dr Coffey: Thank you. That clears up
Q767 Paul Farrelly: This
is precisely my question, and to do with your powers and leverage,
because we found the Premier League said, "Well, we only
agreed it would be net and it didn't include any slice of overseas
rights". You can of course say, "Well, they should look
again" and they can choose to take your advice or not. But
they are all saying that, "We only agreed anyway to match
what the Government gave and what the Government is giving is
falling". So for a relatively small amount of money, if this
is important enough to be in the Coalition Agreement, you can
blaze a trail and show some leadership and therefore exert some
Hugh Robertson: What, in terms
Paul Farrelly: Your contribution to the
Hugh Robertson: the contribution
that the other partners made to the Football Foundation? We have
had that conversation with them on a number of occasions. You
know, I always encourage every single sport to invest the maximum
amount of money in its grassroots. Indeed, one of the first things
I did as a settlement to the listing agreement last summer was
to get a voluntary agreement, independently policed by a QC, of
the sport and recreation allowance to put 30% of their UK broadcasting
income into grassroots.
Q768 Paul Farrelly: But
you are not, as a sportsman, leading by example if the Government
is not doing the same.
Hugh Robertson: Well, the Government
only has a certain amount of money, Paul, and we have to make
decisions accordingly. The two decisions that we took right at
the outset in the Comprehensive Spending Review were to preserve
the elite athlete funding for London 2012, because there are all
sorts of commercial and other imperatives. It would have been
completely wrong to allow an athlete to have had a certain level
of funding and then to cut it off for the last two years of the
Olympic cycle before a home Olympics, and to preserve the Whole
Sport Plans, which drive up participation through the sport governing
Q769 Paul Farrelly: Yes,
I think the point has been made. The Coalition Agreement says,
"We will encourage the reform of football governance rules
to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters".
Hugh Robertson: Well, that is
a good question, because the problem you have here is that the
ownership of football clubs in this country is not universal.
There isn't one structure that applies to every different one.
They are all owned in slightly different ways. There is a range
of options available here from schemes that work really well,
such as the Arsenal Supporters' Trust at one end of the spectrum,
through to a solution that simply involves a supporter liaison
officer or something like that, a specially appointed person,
in every single board. Once I have your report in front of me,
then I will look to see how we can move this forward, what is
the best way to do this forward, but I am not convinced that there
is going to be one single solution that is going to fit for every
single football club.
Q770 Paul Farrelly: What
are your favoured options?
Hugh Robertson: I have a very
open mind about it, if I am honest. I don't have one is the short
answer, because I don't think that there is one favoured option
that will work for everybody. I think the Arsenal Supporters'
Trust is a fantastic organisation and that works very well for
that club, but it works very well in part because of the particular
ownership structure of Arsenal Football Club, and indeed, I hope
it will continue in the years ahead under new ownership arrangements.
Arsenal Football Club is a very different organisation to one
at the bottom of the leagues, and therefore one solution will
not work for everybody.
Q771 Paul Farrelly: So
did the authors of this passage in the Coalition Agreement not
really know what they meant by it?
Hugh Robertson: No, I think they
knew exactly what they meant, which is that is over the course
of this Parliament, the Government will bring forward measures
to encourage supporters to have a bigger stake in the running
of their clubs. We could have done this. If we had done this ourselves
while you were having a Select Committee inquiry into it, I think
you might have been quite annoyed with me and accused me of not
paying enough attention to Parliament.
Q772 Paul Farrelly: I
am sure we would never do that. In the submission that you have
made, Minister, regarding supportersit is on page 3, and
it is the final line of paragraph 3 on page 3you say, "Equally
interesting would be a view on the value of opportunities to incentivise
supporter involvement via a different approach to the treatment
of any government facing debts". Now, can you tell us what
you mean by that? What is going through your mind?
Hugh Robertson: Well, what is
going through my mind? What I am prepared to do is to look at
any option that moves us forward. You have to recognise in all
these situations that all this is being done against the financial
backdrop that this country faces, so I am prepared to lookand
I am prepared to work with football and othersat any sensible
solution that enables us to move this forward. But I come back
to what I said in answer to your last question: you have to recognise
that English football isn't like football in other countries,
where they have one ownership structure that works for everybody.
We have different structures for every single club, and therefore
the same solution will not work for everybody.
Q773 Paul Farrelly: I
am generally trying to understand what that sentence means.
Hugh Robertson: Well, pretty much
what it says, I would say.
Paul Farrelly: What does it mean, "Via
a different approach to the treatment of any government facing
Hugh Robertson: Well, in that
we would look at any sensible suggestions that come forward in
terms of the treatment that the Treasury applies to football debt,
if there was a way that that would enable supporter involvement.
You know, quite what that will precisely mean remains to be seen.
Q774 Paul Farrelly: Is
that a quid pro quo or is itbecause clubs owe the debt,
Hugh Robertson: Indeed, they do.
But as I have said before, there are a number of possible models
here. There was one that the last Government looked at very closely,
by which you tried to give an element of equity in every single
Premier League club to supporters. When you priced that out, that
was going to prohibitively expensive. I think the figure was around
about 10% and the total cost of doing it was over £1 billion.
We clearly do not have that sort of money at the moment. If there
were sensible moves that we could make either to encourage owners
to make available shares to supportersand that has been
suggested by many peoplefor favourable tax treatment or
something like that, that would be something we would look at.
But you do have to remember in all of this that we are doing it
against this very tough financial backdrop, and I would have to
say, if you said to me as the Minister for Sports, "Do you
want a tax break to encourage more young people to play sport
or to help supporters' trusts?" the answer is probably is
to encourage more young people to play sport.
Q775 Paul Farrelly: Yes,
that is a different question, but I am sure my colleague, Damian
Collins, will ask you whether that means a quid pro quo for not
challenging the football creditors rule, for instance.
But I just wanted to come on to some of the
complaints that have been made by some of the trusts, the Arsenal
trust and others, that the Financial Services and Markets Act
acts as a barrier to raising money cheaply and effectively, and
clearly, the regulation of the City and investment schemes has
been there for very good reason, but they argue that there could
be specific solutions that might help with the various protections
that would need to be there against fraud and the like. One is
that the FSMA might easily be amended to include industrial and
providence societies, or community interest companies raising
money for sport. Is that something that you have looked at?
Hugh Robertson: Well, have we
looked at actively to date? No. Is it something we could look
at if we thought it was a sensible solution? Yes.
Q776 Paul Farrelly:
So there have been no discussions with the Treasury?
Hugh Robertson: No, there haven't,
and you come back to this key point: if I was going to go the
Treasury and ask for a tax break for sport, I want to get a tax
break for sport that gets more young people playing sport, and
that is my key and overriding priority. There is a fantastic opportunity
on the back of London 2012 to do that. Yes, this would arguably
be worth doing, but if I were being honest I would say it is a
lesser priority than getting more people playing sport.
Paul Farrelly: It would have to be for
sport, not just for
Hugh Robertson: Correct, yes.
Q777 Paul Farrelly: My
final question, there are options in the Localism Bill, but I
imagine you haven't explored them in any detail. Do you think
that really that majority supporter ownership is really only realistic
for smaller clubs, that where we get into big money situations,
it is just not going to be
Hugh Robertson: In terms of majority
ownership of the club, if you have extraordinarily valuable big
football clubsunless you have a lot of very wealthy supportersit
is going to be very difficult to affect a takeover. Just look
at the issues that the Red Knights had with Manchester United.
That is not to say that smaller holdings cannot be disproportionately
influential, and I think in its short life the Arsenal Supporters'
Club has shown itself to be a sensible and worthwhile influence
on the running of Arsenal Football Club, and I hope it will continue
to do so. You know, there is an argument in a sense that it would
be great to see supporters having a much bigger stake in football
clubs. I just suspect given the finances involved, that is quite
a big ask. If we could get to there, it would be fantastic, but
I don't think we are going to, so much better to concentrate on
an objective that is achievable, which is to get as many of them
involved in a way like the Arsenal Supporters' Trust have done.
Q778 Chair: You have
cited the Arsenal Supporters' Trust a number of times this morning
and I don't think we would disagree on the basis of what we have
seen, but, as you also pointed out, the management or the ownership,
rather, of Arsenal has changed. You expressed the hope that it
continues. Presumably one can do no more than hope?
Hugh Robertson: One can do no
more than hope and use my influence as Sports Minister to encourage
it, to encourage Arsenal Football Club to continue to allow the
Arsenal Supporters' Trust to exist.
Q779 Chair: How do you
Hugh Robertson: In the same way
that any Government Minister applies influence, by using occasions
such as this to say that I think it is a good and worthwhile institution
and hope that Arsenal Football Club pay note.
Chair: You wouldn't make a call to the
new owner to tell them that?
Hugh Robertson: I would consider
Chair: You would consider that.
Q780 Damian Collins:
Firstly, just to recap on where we are, would it be fair to say
that your view on football governance is that no change is no
Hugh Robertson: Correct. Well,
it is an option, because in the end if they all bury their heads
in the sand, we are going to have to do something about it, so
I suppose to the backwoodsmen it is a possible option, but as
far as I am concerned, as the Minister, no change is no option.
Q781 Damian Collins:
Yes, so whether it comes through persuasion, recommendation or
ultimately Government direct action, there will be change?
Hugh Robertson: Yes. In saying
that, I should say that this is not a fight I particularly want
or in many ways would have chosen. There is quite enough going
on in the sport and the Olympic world at the moment without having
a prolonged battle with football over governance, but I think
thingsas I said in answer to the first questionare
sufficiently bad that we have to do something about it. And the
key to this is not to overstep the mark. The responsibility of
Government is to get football into a position where it is better
able to run itself. It is notit is crucially notfor
Government to run football.
Q782 Damian Collins:
We have discussed so far other areas of governance and I know
there were other topics we want to come on to, but we discussed
with UEFA in the previous session the issue of debt and obviously
their Financial Fair Play Regulations. Is this something you have
a view on? Obviously in other areas of public life, like the reform
of banks, the Government takes a very strong view on debt ratios,
capital ratios and performance. Do you think it should take a
similar view with football clubs?
Hugh Robertson: Yes. Broadly speaking,
the answer to that is yes. There is a range of options over where
we get from where we are now to where we would like to be and
how you bring that about, and of course it should be for football
to regulate itself. So we have to get football into a position
where it is able to do that, and 19 of the 20 Premier League clubs
are already UEFA Financially Fair Play compliant. Clearly, I would
like to see all of them compliant and then a range of suitable
financial regulations as you move down through the league.
Q783 Damian Collins:
Do you think it is a source of regret that the Premier League
clubs have adopted the Financial Fair Play Rules themselves, but
the Premier League itself has no such comparable code? The Chief
Executive of the Premier League said that they would not look
to adopt it formally as code of practice for the Premier League,
but that all the clubs themselves are compliant. Is it a source
of regret that this had to come from UEFA rather than being something
we have introduced ourselves?
Hugh Robertson: If the question
you are asking me is: is it a source of regret that a European
football institution had to do this because we were unable to
foresee this coming and do it ourselves? Yes, it is, because I
want to see the governance of football in this country being in
a position where it is able to make these decisions and act as
a regulator for the national game. So yes, that is a matter of
regret. If I am honest, I am probably less hung up about how they
get there than the fact that they do get there, because I think
that where they are now is a better place than where they were.
Q784 Damian Collins:
My colleague, Mr Farrelly, referenced the football creditors rule,
which is something I have probably raised in at least the majority
of the sessions we have had. What has happened with Her Majesty's
Revenue and Customs court case challenging the football creditors
Hugh Robertson: They are ongoing.
Q785 Damian Collins:
What would you hope would be the conclusion of that ongoing process?
Hugh Robertson: Well, you are
inviting me to tread on slightly dangerous ground there. Although
it is probably not for me to instruct a court what outcome they
should achieve at the end of a case, to answer your question in
a more general way, I think a lot of the evidence that you have
received as a Committee about the football creditors rule has
been pretty persuasive. I thought the remarks that David Gill
made probably said it all. I can't remember who it was who said
it was a second-order solution to a first-order problem. It will
not go without a fight, but I think it is morally quite difficult
Q786 Damian Collins:
We were talking about financial regulation. This is presumably
an area where the Government can take a lead if it can't persuade?
Hugh Robertson: No, because it
is an internal football rule. It is not an HMRC rule.
Q787 Damian Collins:
But could you consider legislation to abolish the football creditors
rule if the football bodies wouldn't give it up?
Hugh Robertson: Technically, yes.
Damian Collins: So that would be an option,
Hugh Robertson: That would be
an option. But it is quite interesting studying the transcript
of the inquiry here. There is a considerable body of opinion inside
football that this rule has had its day and I think that is the
most encouraging sign I have seen of that for some while.
Damian Collins: I think if we had a window
on to the world of football, it was when the Football League said
they couldn't find any moral case for keeping the football creditors
rule, but nevertheless they thought it should stay anyway.
Hugh Robertson: Right. Well, there
you go, yes. You could probably add that to the answer to the
Q788 Chair: Can I come
on to the judgment which we are awaiting from the European court
in the broadcasting rights in the Premier League Karen Murphy
case? How serious do you think it would be for football if the
court upholds the opinion expressed by the Advocate General?
Hugh Robertson: I might bring
in my official in, he works on this closely.
Henry Burgess: Thank you. I suppose
it is right to be clear about what the status of that view is
so far. So far we have had the opinion from the Advocate General.
Henry Burgess: In many cases,
the court will follow the opinion of the Advocate General, but
by no means in all. I think it is fair to say that were the court
to follow in every particular the opinion that the Advocate General
has given, that would make quite a substantial difference to the
way that the commercial football broadcasting rights and selling
deals operate here, quite a significant impact. It would make
potentially less impact on the legislative framework within the
United Kingdom, so it is unlikely that there will need to be a
huge amount of legislative change within the UK, but the actual
commercial implications could be very significant indeed. But
the court doesn't follow the Advocate's judgment or opinion in
every case, and not in every case, even if they decide to follow
it do they follow all the arguments through. They could potentially
pick up some of the arguments in that case and reach the same
conclusion as the Advocate General without following all of them
through to their logical conclusion. So they could pick up a particular
part of it and make their decision on that basis rather than follow
them all the way through. But yes, potentially, were the court
to follow every particular view of the Advocate General, that
would make a very significant difference here.
Q789 Chair: Very significant?
Have you made any assessment of exactly how much it will cost
Henry Burgess: I haven't seen
that assessment and it has not been done by me or my colleagues.
I think until the court reaches its judgmentand it is important
to remember that the judgment is then passed back to the High
Court in this country to interpret that viewuntil we get
to that stage, it will be premature to make a significant assessment.
Q790 Chair: But in terms
of persuading the court, it is not sensible to at least have a
vague idea of what it is going to cost football?
Henry Burgess: I think we have
reached the stage now where there are no longer any formal opportunities
to influence the court. The court had an oral hearing before Christmas,
at which the UK was represented, and made its view clear that
were there to be significant change within this area, then change
should happen as a result of the appropriate European and Commission
processes, rather than through an ad hoc change or a reinterpretation
of the legislative position. So I don't think we are at the stage
yet of having quite enough information in order to be able to
assess what the likely financial impact would be in any way that
would be meaningful or helpful to the Committee.
Q791 Chair: Is the Government
supporting the Premier League in seeking to persuade the court
not to go down the route advocated?
Henry Burgess: The Government's
intervention in this case has supported the broad principles put
forward by the Premier League, but the primary UK intervention
point was to do with the law as it stands at the moment and for
any change in that law to go through the appropriate Commission
processes, and not to be affected in a way that was not sufficiently
transparent or procedural through the court itself.
Q792 Chair: Can I put
it to the Minister that the European Court of Justice at the end
of the day we know is not entirely immune from political influence?
Are we using what political influence we have to persuade the
court that this would not be a sensible judgment to reach?
Hugh Robertson: We are, and indeed
I have taken the issue up myself with the European Commissioner
responsible for this, Mrs Vassiliou.
Chair: Are we alone in making that?
Hugh Robertson: As far as I am
aware, yes is the answer to that, but even if it were, that is
not a good reason for us not to make the point, and we believe
that to be in the national interest.
Q793 Chair: Can I come
on toor return perhaps, in some sensesome of the
areas we were talking about before, which is the regulation and
potential licensing of clubs. You will be aware that the Committee
visited Germany and talked to the German Football Association
about the system which exists there, which is obviously a much
more formalised licensing one. Do you see any attractions in that
kind of model?
Hugh Robertson: Yes, I do, if
I am honest, and I will be very interested to see your conclusions
in this regard. But yes, I do, and I see it as part of a two-stage
process, where I think at the moment the problem you have is that
because the corporate governance arrangements are not satisfactory
that it is very, very difficult to give the FA extra powers until
the corporate governance arrangements are satisfactory. Once you
have sorted that out, you then have to sort of re-enable them
to act as a proper sport national governing body, and that means
regulating its own game. One of the ways in which it could do
that would be to have such a licensing system that would sort
of act, I suppose, as a skeleton off which you could hang a number
of other issues, proper rules on fit and proper owners, on debt
as allied to turnover on sport involvement and the rest of it.
Q794 Chair: The German
requirements go quite a long way, and obviously the headline one
is essentially not allowing the clubs to fall into debt, but there
are a lot of other different requirements, including things like
investment in youth sport, youth football. Is that something you
Hugh Robertson: Yes, absolutely.
I would want any such licensing system to be reasonably light
touch, but a basic set of principles that all clubs should agree
to in order to be allowed to compete in the competition would,
I think, be one of potential ways forward.
Q795 Chair: Who would
you see administering that?
Hugh Robertson: Any system like
that has logically to be administered by the sport national governing
Chair: The FA?
Hugh Robertson: The FA.
Q796 Chair: How far would
you see it extend in terms of the
Hugh Robertson: A properly functioning
sport national governing body is responsible for running the sport
in the country, and indeed, that is the function carried out by
every other sport national governing body. It would be unthinkable
that such a thing should happen in rugby and should not be administered
by the RFU, or in cricket, and not be administered by the ECB.
So, you know, logically, it would have to sit with the FA. I think
the slight reluctance or the slight sense of caution that you
would get is that everybody needs to be convinced that the FA
is itself properly governed and able to carry out that function
before it was given that part. In some ways, the tragedy of all
this is that at a level, there are some extraordinarily able people
who work in the FA. I deal with a number of their executives and
there are some very, very good people there. I think they would
welcome this if they were given this opportunity, but it could
only come after they had reformed their governance.
Chair: Continuing in this area, Damian.
Q797 Damian Collins:
Do you think it is reasonable for Leeds United fans to want to
know who owns their club?
Hugh Robertson: Yes.
Q798 Damian Collins:
Are you concerned that this rather simple information seems so
hard to come by and is it something that football's enforcement
of its own regulations of club ownership has to be looked at again
Hugh Robertson: Yes. I think the
transparency is a good principle in the modern age, so yes. I
think anybody involved with the game of football should know who
owns big football clubs, yes.
Q799 Damian Collins:
When the FA gave evidence to us, they told us that they did know
but could not tell us, and now they have written back to say it
turns out they do not anyway. The Chief Executive of the Premier
League said that if they were not told by Leeds, they weren't
certain what they would do and would have to have an inquiry that
would take months and maybe even sort of overrun the start of
the season. Do you share our concerns this is a fairly shambolic
state of affairs?
Hugh Robertson: Yes.
Damian Collins: Well, that is all I have
to say on that.
Hugh Robertson: It has to be a
patent absurdity that many people who save up all week, pass through
turnstiles to go and watch that football game can't find out who
owns it. It is ridiculous.
Q800 Paul Farrelly:
I think that yesterday's result may mean that the question of
Leeds being promoted is less likely, but we invited the Premier
League to say very clearly that in the interests of integrity
of its competitions that, "If you don't abide by this transparency
rule, we consider it sufficiently serious to say you will not
join our club if you qualify", and therefore the Premier
League will have certainty about who else might be playing, as
will the other clubs in the championship. But the response was
that, "Well, we would have to go through a long process,
at the end of which expulsion may or may not be the upshot".
It seemed to us that the Premier League was a dog that not only
really had no effective bite, it could only really dish out a
good gumming to Ken Bates and the people who are hiding behind
this secrecy and mystery.
Hugh Robertson: Well, you have
come back, in a sense, to my previous answer, which is that, yes,
I think it is perfectly reasonable for fans to expect to know
who owns their football club. And if they do not know who owns
their football club, as the fans of Leeds do not, then that is
something that ought to be corrected sooner rather than later.
If you were to go down the path of having a licensing system,
then I would have thought a fairly basic requirement of that licensing
system was that people should know who owns their football clubs.
It is not asking the world, after all, is it?
Paul Farrelly: I am not going to use
any more dog analogies either.
Q801 Dr Coffey: How do
you view the relationship between the FA and the Premier League?
Hugh Robertson: I think variably
is probably the best answer to that. It seems to go through a
number of iterations, and I have only watched it from afar in
the five years I studied this in opposition, and I have watched
it more closely since then. When they come together and work together
for the interests of football, as they did during the latter stages
of the 2018 World Cup bid, it makes for a very powerful force,
and part of any changes that we do make to football governance
after this, must be to make that relationship stronger. It is
tempting to forget in all of this, you know, you can get into
a sort ofand Boris has a good phrase for it, doesn't he?
He doesn't quite call it "gloom-mongers" but you can
get a bit miserable about the state of English football and forget
that in the Premier League we have this country's most successful
sporting export and it is followed around the globe. It is a fantastic
competition and there is much that is good about it. What we really
want to do is to harness that good for the betterment of football.
Q802 Dr Coffey: So this,
well, it is probably the same way of asking the questions that
have been asked earlier, but what do you think Government can
do to strengthen the FA that wouldn't require legislation?
Hugh Robertson: Well, I think
the first thing is you have to tackle the FA Board. I think that
is the key to unlocking all of this, or it is the first part of
unlocking all this. It will not do it on its own, but it is the
first and very necessary step. The way forward was signposted
very clearly in the Burns Review, and the fact is that however
many years on since thatand Burns indeed, I think, saidI
don't know whether it was said in this Committee, he certainly
said it to methat he wished he had been bolder, to some
extent. I think there is a range of solutions from the FA Board,
from building on the independent non-executive chairman and to
independent non-executive directors that we have, and then balancing
those against three from the professional game and three from
the amateur game to create a board of nine with the chairman having
the casting vote, through to adding some of the executives on
to that board and then reducing the numbers from the amateur game
and the professional game, through to the Ian Watmore solution,
which is simply to have a series of executives facing a series
of independent non-executives who challenge those executives over
the way they take their decisions, the more commercial model.
I think it most unlikely that we would get to that without legislation.
I would hope that by persuasion and influence we might move towards
the first model.
Q803 Dr Coffey: The German
FA or football board has no independent executives. It manages
to have seen, if you like, the light on certain of its aspects.
Why do you thinkyou in particular have seemed to, particularly
following the Burns Reviewthe introduction of non-executives
will make a difference? We have already heard today about how
the former Prime Minister of Belgium is going to monitor the regulation
of finances in UEFA. I can't say that was a ringing endorsement,
but why is it that you feel that the non-executives will make
Hugh Robertson: I come back to
your first question, which was that you asked about the relationship
between the FA and the Premier League. At the moment, you have
a board that is potentially subject to being locked between the
professional game and the amateur game. Independents break that
stalemate. Clearly, the more of them you have, the more influential
they will be. Sport across the board is by no means a beacon of
good practice in this regard, but if you look at corporate governance
models in the commercial worldand football is a very, very
big business indeed, and it is a business, one would hope, with
a social conscience, but it is a very big business indeedto
have that sort of independent expertise coming from outside football
has only to be good for the governance of the game.
Q804 Dr Coffey: So if
I was to put to you England winning Euro 2012 or independent board,
what would you prefer?
Hugh Robertson: England winning
in 2012. There is absolutely no doubt about it. My job as Sports
Minister is to make sure that this country's sporting stock is
as high as possible, and it will be a great deal higher if we
win the World Cup or the European Cup than it will be if we have
two independent non-executives on the FA Board, keen though I
am achieve the latter.
Q805 Dr Coffey: A slight
detour from this: in terms of the Olympic Games and trying to
have a British team, what have you been able to do to try and
make that happen?
Hugh Robertson: Try and persuade
my counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland of what
FIFA have said, which is that there is no threat to their independence
by contributing to a Great British football team. Strangely enough,
I think the greatest losers if we are unable to get over the line
on this will be women's football, which would get an unbelievable
showcase through London 2012 in a way that it doesn't always get
Q806 Dr Coffey: To that
end, do you think it is a shame the BBC isn't showing women's
World Cup live, like they did four years ago?
Hugh Robertson: Yes, I do. My
job as Sports Minister is to make sure that every single young
athlete, male or female, gets the best possible chance to represent
their country and the pity about some of the politics that is
going on around this Team GB business is I don't think it is going
to make an iota of difference in terms of FIFA. It will simply
deny the opportunity to compete in the London Games to young men
and women born in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and I
think that is a very great shame. If it was in my means to stop
it, I would.
Q807 Damian Collins:
Just to go back to some of the governance issues with the Football
Association and their relationship with the Premier League, if
the Premier League had a seat on the FA Board, do you think that
should be reciprocated?
Hugh Robertson: I don't know that
I have a firm view on that in any way, if I am honest. When I
described the possible models to which you could move, from three,
three, three, professional, amateur and independent non-executives,
through to executives challenged by independents, there is a range
of models there. The first one recognises that football, however
uneasy at times, however strongly at others when it is working
together, is a sort of alliance of all those are interested in
the game. So the argument for having the Premier League on the
FA Board is that they are this country's most powerful sporting
export. More people watch the Premier League than, I think, any
other football league anywhere around the world. If you look at
the number of people who run around on the continent of Africa
or in Asia with Premier League football shirts on their backs,
its reach is enormous, and the Premier League should have great
credit for having achieved that during its time. When you have
an organisation as powerful as that it makes sense, at one end
of the spectrum, to make sure that it is involved with the regulation
of this game. So to have them involved in some way is sensible.
If that leads to a complete blocking of any progressand
I am not saying that it has donethen that is going to be
slightly counter-productive, isn't it?
Q808 Damian Collins:
But the question was about reciprocation, should the FA as football's
governing body, have a seat on the board of the Premier League?
Hugh Robertson: I think I would
be inclined to tackle the first issue first, which I think is
getting the FA's corporate governance sorted out. If the by-product
of that, if we could get to this happy situation, was that the
two organisationsand indeed the Football League as well
were able to operate more harmoniously together for the good of
football, that would be fantastic news.
Q809 Damian Collins:
But based on your earlier remarks, if the FA were to be responsible
for, if you like, financial performance, as the governing body
of the gameif you like, the FA is responsible for the game
and the Premier League runs a competition within the gamewouldn't
that necessitate some sort of formal relationship between them?
Hugh Robertson: I would have thought
in an ideal world, yes. Indeed, if you look at the arrangements
that govern the London 2012, the British Olympic Association,
as the athletes' representative, have a seat on the local board
or at least did until recently. That is precisely so that you
get all the partners who are involved in the delivery of the process
round the same table. In an ideal world, yes, that would be the
case. I think there are one or two other issues we need to tackle
first, like getting the central governance of the FA Board correct.
Q810 Damian Collins:
In some ways the previous witness from UEFA hinted at this, that
what you have on the FA Board is a series of vested interests
fighting with each other rather than a single body that takes
a unified view of how the game should be run. Is that your experience
Yes, I think he is right. I think that is absolutely right. That
is of course the importance ofto come back to the question
asked earlierindependent non-executive directors because
they can break that logjam, because the vested interests, however
hard they try, willvested interests, the representatives
from the professional game and from the amateur game will necessarily
stick out for the parts of the game that have put them on there.
So they will create that sort of vested interest situation. The
only way you can break that is by having independence on who can
take a more general view. That indeed was of course why Burns
made the recommendations that he did.
Q811 Damian Collins:
From what you are saying, it sounds like you wouldn't go the whole
hog, in terms of what Ian Watmore would do, and have a totally
No. I don't think I yet have a firm view on it. It has been enough
of a struggle to get to where we are at the moment, and you look
at how many years we have been going at this. I think there is
an opportunity now, through this inquiry, through the response
we will have to make of it, to set football the challenge of achieving
something; something that really makes a quantifiable difference
here. There is a range to which they can go from 333 at one end,
through adding some executives on to it, through to the Watmore
solution at the far end of the spectrum.
I would strongly encourage football to realise that
there is a strength of feeling about this, that people want something
done. I hope they will see the light; that they will make these
changes and that we will not have to legislate. But if they prove
unable to do itand the track record isn't massively encouragingthen
legislate we will.
Q812 Damian Collins:
Just two final questions. Something we discussed with Premier
League when they gave evidence is: do you have a concern that
the role of someone like Sir Dave Richards, who was involved in
the bids, the FA Board, and Chairman of the Premier League, that
anyone in that position could be conflicted between the various
different interests they are being asked to serve?
Boards should do everything possible to avoid conflicts of interest,
and I think the move that the new chairman of the FA made to take
back control of the England team is the correct one. The chairman
of a sport governing body should be, de facto, responsible for
the performance of the national team. It is as simple as that.
It is inconceivable that the chairman of the RFU would not be
responsible for the performance of the England rugby team or that
Giles Clarke would not be responsible for the performance of the
England cricket team. It is ridiculous.
Q813 Damian Collins:
Finally, although a lot of the issues about governance have been
directed towards the FAI think that is right and I think
we all respect the Premier League's credible commercial successdo
you think there is a role for greater independent scrutiny of
the performance of the Premier League; the issue of whether they
have an independent director on their board, which they were resistant
to, and even if some of the detailsthe issue raised in
the press last week about the company that Sir Dave Richards was
a director of and his son ran receiving contracts from the World
Cup bid, the FA and the Premier League and the question of have
people been informed of that relationship? What sort of rules
for declaring those interests exist? No one is implying necessarily
anything was wrong but there seems to be a lack of clarity in
terms of how those sorts of decisions are made, and if that lack
of clarity does exist would that be a role for an independent
Yes. Footballlet me put it this wayit occurs to
me is a sort of game in transition. Quite a lot of the structures
that govern the game of football relate to a previous time. I
will try and say that gently. Football is a very big business
now that is followed by 11 million people, or whatever it is,
who play it or follow it every weekend. You have to have the very
best corporate governance arrangements around the boards that
control our major games. So yes, a properly run board will have
rules in place that would deal with conflicts of interest, and
so on, like any other board does. We have this with the London
Olympics. Where there are conflicts of interest people leave the
room for the relevant agenda items, and so on. It is perfectly
well established commercial practice in almost every other field
and it should apply to football.
Q814 Paul Farrelly:
One final question on the structure. In your written evidence
you say, "In our view modern boards should have eight to
10 members and include non-executives", and that covers the
range of options that you would like to see.
That is encouraging, isn't it?
Paul Farrelly: When we saw the FA at
Wembley it seemed as if the two independent non-executives is
pretty much a done deal for the Premier League, but they don't
feel it is a done deal yet for their FA Council and they were
being very cautious because they want to coax us through the FA
Council with people from the counties, the vice presidents who
carry on like judges, on and on and on, but what they are proposing
at the momentwhat they are trying to coach through the
FA Councilis adding the two non-execs on top of what is
already there and that is not good enough, is it?
No. I mean I absolutely stick by what we said in the earlier evidence,
that I think the best sort of boards are eight to 10 and have
a significant number of non-executives on them. As you correctly
say, the FA is a long way off that at the moment, so anything
would be an improvement. I welcome the steps that David Bernstein
has made since he took over, both in terms of removing the conflict
of interest at that central board and by his stated desire to
add two non-executive directors on to the board.
If he can now thin down the representation from
the amateur game and the professional game so you have the three,
three, three, that would be a very worthwhile outcome. If we could
achieve that through consensus and bring football along that might
obviate the need to resort to legislation and go for a more radical
solution. I do want to work with football to achieve this and
it is just a question of getting them to realise that this needs
Q815 Dr Coffey:
One of the ways to think about being a representative on the FA
Board or Council is to have a cap or a term limit. Do you have
a view on that? You know, if you have been on the council for
10 years you should
Generally speakingI don't think there is anything terribly
controversial in thiswith anybody who does anything, possibly
even politicians, there comes a time when you spend a certain
amount of time getting up-to-speed on a given subject, you then
have a productive period and there then sometimes can become a
slightly sleepier period at the end of it. So I think term limits
are a good thing in almost all walks of life. They certainly are
with directors in the commercial world and, again, I can't see
why that principle applied to football should be any different.
Q816 Chair: Minister,
you started in your first answer by referring to the plethora
of reports, inquiries and commissions that have crawled over this
ground repeatedly and nothing has changed. Are you determined
that on your watch something is going to change?
Yes, I am. Whether I can actually do that of course remains to
be seen because, like everything in politics, that will require
backing. I would not for a moment underestimate the difficulty
of this. I think there is going to be an awful lot of backbiting
and unpleasantness before we get from here to where we are trying
to get to. If I am honest that is not something I particularly
welcome, either personally or would have welcomed at the time
when we are trying to deliver the London 2012 Olympics, but I
have thought about this at considerable length. I did have an
eight month period to think this all through while the World Cup
was going on because we had agreed that we wouldn't embark on
this before that. As I say, a number of either my direct predecessors
or previous Secretaries of State have tried to crack this nut
and failed. I recognise that and, as I say, it is not going to
be pleasant or a great deal of fun but it needs doing for the
good of the game of football.
Actually, what I want to do, I want to make
sure that at the end of my time as a Minister that football is
in a better position than it was when I took it over. I think
the most serious issues relate to governance and the way the game
is run, and I do not want to see it at the time that I leave,
or get sacked or whatever happens to me, that we haven't tackledbecause
it is too much trouble or it is too much effort, or anythingsomething
that needs to be done in what is after all our national game.
I simply want to make sure that we have the best possible chance
of winning a World Cup in due course.
Q817 Chair: In
order to force change it is sometimes necessary to have an alternative
which you don't necessarily wish to deploy but which you could
resort to if change didn't happen.
Chair: Called legislation, and is that
It is my position, Chair.
Chair: Thank you.