Football Governance - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

8  The way forward

254.  There is a need for a strong FA to sit above strong League competitions. A strong FA is needed to strengthen financial governance in relation to club financial management and ownership through oversight of a domestic licensing system which will in turn complement the new financial fair play provisions of UEFA's licensing system. The risk is that, without this, the current unacceptable level of administrations and clubs experiencing acute financial difficulties will continue. This would have a negative effect on the community benefits of football and, potentially, also on the competitiveness of the Leagues and the sustainability of England's uniquely long football pyramid. A strong FA is also required to give strategic direction to youth development and coaching policies, and to direct other initiatives at the grass roots. Finally, though this has not formed a major part of this inquiry, a strong FA is required to develop and maintain strong national sides. We agree with David Bernstein that the FA needs to provide moral leadership, and we see resolution of the future funding of Supporters Direct as a good test case for this.

255.  We are optimistic that the reforms we have proposed to improve the FA's own internal governance will enable it to take up this strong role. However, we are also acutely conscious that a number of previous reports into English football governance have sought unavailingly to induce similar reform. While, therefore, we echo the sentiments of previous reports for the key stakeholders to work together to implement our recommendations for the good of the game, we have also considered whether more radical intervention is needed.

256.  Much of our evidence has been sceptical that change from within the game is possible. Westminster University reflected on the number of previous reviews and reports on football, and concluded that "it is of some concern that much of the good work and solid recommendations in previous reports have not been fully implemented or considered".[364]

Manchester United Supporters Trust observed that "football authorities have been given multiple opportunities to reform but have failed to do so", a sentiment echoed by other supporters trusts.[365] Ian Watmore advised us:

You should set out what the strategic objectives for football as a whole are and then what role the FA has within that and then how the FA might have a governance structure to determine that. I don't think it will come about through natural causes.[366]

257.   The solution favoured by most was Government intervention. However, it is also the case that the Government has little leverage on a game able to generate huge revenues of its own, and the governing body of which is vehemently opposed to some types of Government intervention. The most practical solution proposed was intervention by means of a Sports Act to consolidate the position of the FA as the governing body of the domestic game. Because such legislation exists in other European countries, this could not be constituted as undue Government interference. Lord Triesman, for example, noted that:

there are a number of countries that have a basic sports law […] You can use it for all sorts of purposes but it can also, and it does in some countries, allocate the key responsibility for the regulation of sport to the sports governing bodies so that they must do it and they must be accountable for it. After that the Government stands back.[367]

He concluded that "it would be a great pity to have to consider legislation as a means of doing it but it would not be right to rule it out".[368]

258.  Ian Watmore similarly argued that Government intervention "whether that is an Act or a strongly worded demand" was required.[369] Most intriguingly, perhaps, William Gaillard from UEFA appeared favourably disposed to a legislative solution. Citing the example of France, he told us "there is legislation in my country […] where it is clearly stated what is the role of the national association, the clubs, the leagues and so on, and therefore you avoid the turf wars that have been going on in this country".[370] Legislation would not be without risk, however. The Court case referred to in earlier chapters concluded that the FA was not susceptible to judicial review. Putting the FA's authority on a statutory basis might have the unintended consequence of rendering the FA's decisions susceptible to challenge through the courts.

259.  We asked the Sports Minister if legislation was a viable option to strengthen football governance in England. He acknowledged that "we could, in extremis, pass legislation, as indeed a number of other countries have done".[371] Urging the football authorities to appreciate the strength of feeling about the need for stronger governance in football, he commented that "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 it—and the track record isn't massively encouraging—then legislate we will".[372]

260.  We are clear that our key recommendations would improve football governance and act so as to address the weaknesses in our game without impacting adversely on its manifold strengths. They leave the Premier League and the Football League free to run their successful competitions, and give the FA the opportunity to help them curb the financial excesses that threaten to damage the integrity of their competitions. They also allow the FA to chart the strategic direction of football in England in a manner commensurate with its status as a governing body.

261.  Almost all our recommendations for the reform of football governance can be achieved through agreement between the football authorities and without legislation. We therefore urge the football authorities to consider our Report carefully, and to respond positively with an agreed strategy and timetable for change. As a last resort, in the absence of substantive progress, we recommend that the Government consider introducing legislation to require the FA to implement the necessary governance reforms in line with its duties as a governing body.

364   Ev w145 Back

365   Ev w36 Back

366   Q 368 Back

367   Q 52 Back

368   Q 52 Back

369   Q 370 Back

370   Q 749 Back

371   Q 763 Back

372   Q 811 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 29 July 2011