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Parliament to debate the governance of the English Football Association

By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, United Kingdom The inability of the English Football Association (the FA) to reform itself is to be debated in the British House of Commons. The debate follows calls over a significant period of time for the Government to introduce legislation to force reform, if the FA fails to reform itself. Back in June 2011, former FA Chairman, Lord Triesman, appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee and stated that the English Premier League is the ultimate authority in English Football and that it was impossible for him to make the changes that he wanted. In July 2011, subsequent to the Parliamentary Select Committee hearing, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on football governance, which, amongst other issues, focused on the regulatory model and role of the FA and the future development of the game. The  Committee published a follow-up report in 2013. This follow-up report criticised the FA for not doing enough on governance reforms and called for the Government to introduce legislation, as soon as practically possible. Fast forward to October 2016 and the publication of a new Code for Sports Governance (the Code) to come into effect in April 2017. The Code sets standards of transparency, accountability and financial integrity for those sports governing bodies that ask for Government and National Lottery funding. It is important to note that the Government, through Sport England, has invested approximately £56 million in the FA since 2010, with the aim that the funds will be used to help grow and sustain grassroots’ football participation in England. The Code gave the FA six months to demonstrate that it was willing to improve its governance, otherwise public funding would be withdrawn and distributed to football through different channels. However, the Committee raised concerns that the FA will not comply voluntarily with the proposed reforms because it does not need to rely on Government funding. In addition to Lord Triesman’s comments in June 2011, four more former FA executives have spoken in similar terms about the difficulties they encountered at the FA. David Bernstein, David Davies, Greg Dyke and Alex Horne (along with Lord Triesman) have written a letter to Damian Collins, MP, the current Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, making the following points:
  • The Premier League's financial power has a knock-on effect "right through the football pyramid";
  • The FA is compelled to contribute tens of millions of pounds to the Premier League, rather than the grassroots of the game;
  • The majority of those in senior positions are under-qualified to deal with the complexities of the FA structures; and
  • The FA Board is neither an independent board nor an independent regulator.
What is evident is that the FA has been given a substantial period of time within which to reform itself and has failed to do so. The result of this failure is that the present governance of English football is not strong enough to improve football in England. In addition, although the English Premier League’s popularity continues to increase, the number of English footballers playing in the League has decreased, and also the performance of the national team at major football tournaments has declined. In order to rectify this situation, it appears that the British Government will have to introduce appropriate legislation. Watch this space for further developments in this sorry saga!  

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