Football Governance - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

1.  The Department is pleased to respond to the Select Committee's call for evidence on their Inquiry into the governance of football.

2.  The Inquiry is a valuable opportunity to take stock across a range of issues that affect the way that football is run and to ensure that our national game is in the best possible place to make the most of its strengths and to address the challenges it faces. We look forward to following the Committee's Inquiry and responding to their recommendations. We will be happy to support the Committee in any way it feels appropriate.

3.  It is our honour and privilege to have the eyes of the sporting world turned firmly on us as we build towards what we hope to be one of the best ever Olympic and Paralympic Games. Such attention brings many responsibilities. One of those is to ensure that the organisation of sport in this country—and not just the traditional Olympic sports—is fully fit for purpose. Working with the sports themselves to ensure that the governance arrangements are as strong and effective as possible, that they reflect the best possible practice, and that they reflect the identity and expectations of a modern population, is a key part of responding successfully to that attention.

4.  It is not for any Government to run sport or to micro-manage its future. All sport—not least football—is best run by dedicated professionals working within strong and effective independent and accountable organisations.

5.  At the same time Government, by virtue of public expectation and through the legitimate interest in the use of public funds, has a genuine role to play in ensuring that those sports organisations are working together effectively for the long term good of the game. The Department has committed to addressing the issues of governance and supporter involvement within its Business Plan.

6.  There is little question that football in this country has a strong claim to be one of the greatest national sporting and commercial success stories of the last two decades. To think back to where football was at the end of the 1980s in terms of violence, racism, the state of grounds and the quality of supporter experience is to be shocked by the comparison with today's game. To get where we are today—not without problems, but demonstrably in a completely different place—has been the result of the dedication, skill and professionalism of people in the Football Associations, the Leagues, of supporters, players, the police, anti-racism campaigners and many others.

7.  Those changes have been part of bringing about the kind of stability and popularity that has enabled professional and amateur football to thrive.

8.  In Wembley we now have a genuinely world-class national stadium that bears comparison with the best in the world. In time this will be matched by the National Football Centre at Burton which we hope will provide the centre for coaching and national development for years to come. At junior level the England Men's Under 17 team are European Champions, the men's and women's Under 21 teams reached the European Championship Finals. The women's professional game has been supported by the FA with the introduction this summer of a new Super League.

9.  The 2010-11 Premier League season is shaping up to be the one of the most competitive ever. The proceeds of the sale of television rights has enabled over £110 million to be invested in community good causes since 2007, helping engage with around 14 million people. The Premier League has become the most watched sporting league anywhere in the world, followed by over 500 million people in 202 countries. In the process the Premier League has been given a Queen's Award for Enterprise for their contribution to international trade.

10.  The Football League attracted over 17 million attendances last year. The Championship is the 4th best attended football competition in Europe—ahead of the top leagues in Italy, the Netherlands and France. The League has recently signed a new £264 million three year television deal and the Football League Trust has reached over 1.6 million young people under 16 with programmes to encourage sporting participation.

11.  That success is not accidental. It is down to the hard work of those in the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League and many others. There is no doubt that they do not always get the credit they deserve.

12.  At the same time, there is absolutely no room for self-satisfaction. The struggle against racism and violence is never completely won, but must be an ongoing campaign. And the rapid commercial changes of the last two decades, together with supporters' increasing expectations, has brought new challenges in terms of financial sustainability as clubs chase success; the genuine involvement of supporters; the ability for the football authorities to work effectively together to regulate appropriately; the development of new young players; and the high expectations of the national team. Those are challenges enough, even putting aside last year's England FIFA World Cup disappointments, first in South Africa and then in Zurich.

13.  The football authorities in this country are not complacent. In a number of cases they have already responded to the new challenges by making potentially significant changes to the way that the game is regulated at the highest levels. The various competition regulators themselves will undoubtedly provide the Committee with evidence of how they are toughening-up the regulation of the clubs that play in them. The changes in relation to the ownership of clubs, squad size and make-up, closer scrutiny of financial transactions, and the growing interest in putting in place effective approaches to ensuring that football clubs live within their means demonstrates that the will to respond to the new challenges of football is not lacking. Separately UEFA's introduction of what has been termed "Financial Fair Play" rules for their own competitions has also undoubtedly acted to shift the terms of the debate and expectations on the proper role of competition regulators.

14.  At the same time, as the Select Committee notes in its Call for Evidence, there remain genuine concerns amongst supporters, and others close to the game, about whether the authorities are always in the best possible position to turn their will to respond to the new challenges into the kind of practical action that will make the greatest possible difference.

15.  Despite the undoubted success story of football in this country there are a number of areas which may be fertile ground for the Select Committee's Inquiry. The Department has picked out four particular issues on which there may be a view that the time is now right for further action.

—  Governance. All sporting organisations need strong, effective and appropriate senior-level governance arrangements. The kinds of structures and membership that are appropriate will vary from body to body, and from time to time, depending on their roles and responsibilities. What does not change is the need for the top-level governance arrangements to be robust, to avoid unnecessary conflicts of interest and to include the right levels of independent challenge and expertise. In our view, modern boards should have eight to ten members and include non-executives.

—  Transparency. The football family is a complex one and the relationship between the bodies and the governance structures is similarly complex. For example, it is unlikely that many supporters will fully understand the process for confirming new regulations or changing rules, or the degree of challenge to which any changes may be subject. In the current climate, the judgements taken on the regulations about the servicing of debt, the sustainability of that debt and the penalties which should be incurred for failing to abide by the rules, are understandably of significant concern to supporters and others. The perception of a lack of clarity in those areas is likely to reduce confidence in the decisions themselves, regardless of their effectiveness. We would be particularly interested in the Select Committee's view on such issues and whether the current arrangements are fully fit for purpose. In our view, decision-making structures should be transparent, understandable and open to external challenge.

—  Supporters. It is inevitable and unsurprising that a significant proportion of the current concerns relate to football's relationship with its supporters. Rightly or wrongly, there is a concern that it is generally harder for supporters to be closely involved in their club than in the past and that there is not yet strong enough encouragement for supporters' organisations. We would be particularly interested in views on whether there are inadvertent restrictions on supporter involvement in either club or league regulation and what practical steps can be taken to better encourage meaningful engagement. There appears to be a common feeling that Supporters Trust ownership has become the last resort for clubs which are on the verge of dissolution. Whether there are effective means of enabling appropriate engagement and information sharing earlier in the process may be a fertile area of interest. 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 debt.

—  National game. It is understandable that given the recent successes of the England Under 17 and Under 21 teams, there is growing optimism about how this will translate to the senior team in the years ahead. Our view is that improvements in governance could have an important effect in ensuring that the football authorities are always set up to give the national teams the best possible chance of success. For example, it is widely acknowledged that English football still has some way to go to improving the way it develops young talent in comparison with our major European competitors. In particular, in terms of the numbers of fully qualified coaches we have, and an overall strategy for ensuring the right level of skills and expertise is passed on from the earliest possible ages. Ensuring that each organisation takes a hard and thorough look together to ensure there are no inadvertent barriers within the current processes or regulations in terms of coaching, player development or availability would be an important step in helping to turn our expectations for the national teams into reality. 16. I believe that, by working together, the football authorities have the incentive, powers and skills to be able to respond effectively to the new challenges.

16.  I want to be clear again that it is not for Government to run any sport. However there is an appropriate role for Government in encouraging the authorities in either this task or altering the landscape. Where there are challenges or recommendations that properly fall to Government then we intend to address these fully.

17.  The Department looks forward to reading and responding to the Select Committee's findings and recommendations. In the meantime, we will be glad to assist the Committee in whatever ways are appropriate.

January 2011

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Prepared 29 July 2011