I beg to move,
That this House has no confidence in the ability of the Football Association (FA) to comply fully with its duties as a governing body, as the current governance structures of the FA make it impossible for the organisation to reform itself; and calls on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals to reform the governance of the FA.
A former Minister said when addressing the subject of FA reform:
“We are making progress, albeit slowly.”—[Official Report, 15 October 1969; Vol. 788, c. 570.]
That was Denis Howell speaking in 1969 in a debate on the Chester report, commissioned in 1966, which looked at the governance of football in England. Since that time, there have been numerous reviews of the governance and necessary reform of the Football Association. There was the Burns review of 2005. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee published two football governance reports, one in 2011 and another in 2013, setting out a series of detailed measures where we believed that the governance of football needed to improve dramatically. A former sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, said that he was going to prepare a Bill to legislate to reform the Football Association if it refused to deliver the necessary reforms. He described football as the “worst-governed” sport in Britain.
The Government are consulting on their sports governance code, which will apply to all national governing bodies of sport. This debate falls a few weeks before the talks between the Government and the FA will conclude. Some people may therefore suggest that this debate is a few weeks early; others may say that it is 50 years too late. We have been talking about this issue for a very long time.
Some people have questioned whether it is the responsibility of Parliament to seek to legislate on a private matter like football and sport, but I think it is the right of the national Parliament of this country to take a view on the administration and welfare of our national game, as we have sought to do, because this a matter that the people we represent care greatly about.
It is important—I speak as an MP for the home of the English premier league champions, Leicester, the city of diversity—that Parliament sends out a message on diversity. A quarter of all professional footballers are black, yet only 17 of the 92 top clubs have an ethnic minority person in a senior coaching role. Although the FA has committed £1.4 million to addressing diversity, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important in a debate like this that we send out the message that diversity should be an important part of any reform?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. I will come on to deal with the issue of diversity. Some would say that if the FA Council itself was a more diverse body that more truly reflected the modern world and the modern game, more progress would be made on supporting diversity, including encouraging and supporting more former players from minority ethnic backgrounds into coaching, and through the coaching system into the management of professional clubs. We would all want to see that.
Our constituents who are supporters of their clubs make continual representations about the effect of bad governance on the teams that they love—teams that have been driven into administration through financial mismanagement.
I am not going to rehearse all the arguments about Coventry City football club, but there should be some form of regulation. After all, the Football League is the only organisation that I know of that does not have certain rules in a way that relates to Parliament. Would the hon. Gentleman consider having Coventry’s owners, Sisu, in front of his Committee to find out exactly what is going on? There are all sorts of problems at Coventry—as I said, I am not going to rehearse them—and we really now have to get to the bottom of this.
The hon. Gentleman has been a doughty champion of the fans of Coventry City football club and the people of Coventry regarding the maladministration of their club. It is tragic that a club that was in the top flight for so long has been run into the ground as it has been. The football administrators have stood back and watched that happen, and it cannot be allowed to continue. I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has been acting as an intermediary, and I support him in his work. The Committee has spoken about that issue strongly in the past, and it may do so in the future. We speak up for supporters whose clubs are being run into the ground.
As a parent, I see what some grassroots football facilities are like, and we have had representations about that. At this time of the year, too many boys and girls are playing on heavily waterlogged pitches and at training grounds or in parks where there are no changing facilities and no amenities at all. They look at the great wealth within the game and ask how that can be true. Although we welcome the fact that the FA facilities fund invests £22 million—a lot of money for a lot of sports—in facilities, that is a tiny amount of money in football. Twenty-two million pounds would not buy a quarter share in Paul Pogba. Given the huge wealth that exists in football, we all believe it could do a lot more.
Financial scandals have affected the game, and we are concerned that they have not been properly investigated. Lord Stevens led a review into allegations of scandals and misappropriated payments in the football transfer market, and he was unable to sign off on 17 of the transfers that he investigated to say that no suspicious payments had been made. Some of those transfers then involved a future England manager. People will ask, “Why aren’t these things being properly investigated? What is wrong with the administration of financial conduct and ethics in football?
As a person of an undeniable ethnicity and gender, and probably not in the first flush of my youth, I am reluctant to intervene when people who fit into those categories are being so widely criticised. However, four years ago a report considered the football creditors rule, which seems to me one of the absolutely rotten things at the heart of British football. Has the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues—particularly the Minister—received any indication that the FA is taking the matter seriously? Even though it might cause short-term pain, the long-term gain for the game would be immeasurable.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I have long believed that the creditors rule should be abolished. It means that when a club is insolvent, it has to pay all its football creditors, but the other creditors—the local community and the businesses it works with—do not get any money. I believe that that rule should have been abolished. The chairman of the FA said when he was chairman of the Football League that no moral argument could be made in favour of the creditors rule, but nevertheless it stands. I welcome the fact that progress has been made in putting a greater obligation on clubs to settle with non-football creditors on much better terms than was the case a few years ago, but I would like that to go further.
Football receives, as do other sports, a considerable amount of funding from the public purse, and we in Parliament are right to take an interest in how public money is spent on our national game. In the brief time that I have, I want to set out how and why I believe the FA needs to be reformed.
The FA Council—effectively, the Parliament of football—should represent football across the community, but it is not representative of modern society and the people who play the game. Of its 122 members, 92 are over the age of 60 and 12 are over the age of 80. There are eight women, and there are four people from minority ethnic backgrounds, so there are more men over 80 on the FA Council than there are women. That is not sustainable, and it does not reflect modern society. Although some on the FA Council understand the need for change, some do not. Barry Taylor, a life vice-president of the FA and life president of Barnsley, said in a letter to his colleagues on the FA Council that it “would be great” to have more women involved,
“but not just for its own sake”.
Hearing that, I do not think that he has any serious commitment to the idea of more women on the council, or that he even understands why it is necessary.
The FA Council is an important body because it has power over youth football and women’s football, and it is an important influence on the game. The FA board needs to be stronger and more independent—a more executive body. Only one of its 12 members is a woman, and there are only two independent directors. The last three chairmen of the FA—one of them, Lord Triesman, is sitting in the Gallery—have written to the Select Committee to say that reform is necessary to strengthen the board and ensure that the balance of power is held by the independent directors on the board. That was also a recommendation in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report. Reform is needed to give the FA the power to resist powerful forces and vested interests in the game, particularly the power and strength of the Premier League.
The primary job of the Premier League is to promote its competition, and it does so brilliantly all around the world. However, it exerts an enormous influence over football, because of the vast amount of money it raises and the funds it puts back into the game. We need a strong Premier League—that is good for football—but we need a strong national governing body of football that is ultimately responsible for many of the sporting and ethical decisions that football has to take.
The hon. Gentleman is making a really important point. This is not just about who sits on which boards, but where the money is and the power that it exercises. Does he think there is room for a further look at the whole issue of the power and money of the Premier League, and what governance changes could be brought in to get more control over it for the good of the game as a whole?
The Select Committee recommended that the FA board should have a 6:4 ratio in favour of the FA executive and independent directors, so that their voice is stronger than that of any other component parts, including the Premier League. I think that is a necessary reform.
In closing—I could speak for a lot longer, but I want other Members to have the chance to make their own speeches—it is necessary to reform the structure of the FA board to make the FA more independent and give it the power to act. We have been calling for that for years, and the Select Committee has called for it in previous reports. We now believe that legislation is the only way in which that can be delivered. That was the recommendation of the last three chairmen of the FA to the Select Committee, who said that the FA cannot reform itself—turkeys will not vote for Christmas—so there has to be external pressure and action through legislation to achieve it. In this debate, I am asking the Government, if they are unsuccessful in getting the FA to reform, to prepare a Bill to introduce during the next Session of Parliament, following the Queen’s Speech, to deliver the reform the FA so badly needs.
Order. I am sorry, colleagues, but I am afraid we will have to start with a limit on Back-Bench speeches of four minutes.
I speak in today’s debate as one of the Members representing Bradford who has, in recent months, been deeply involved in working to save my home city’s most historical sporting club. Many Members will know this proud institution—the world-renowned Bradford Bulls rugby football league club. I am pleased that after many months of campaigning, the Bradford Bulls have risen anew from administration and liquidation. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing the club well under its new ownership.
I recognise that the Bradford Bulls are not a member of the Football Association, but of another governing body, the Rugby Football League. However, I believe most hon. Members would agree that, as a country, we face a crisis of governance not only in football, but across many of our cherished sports. Much of what has been and will be said in the Chamber this afternoon is relevant not just to football, but right across sport. Through the events of recent months in my constituency, I have learned much about governance, the role of governing bodies and, I am afraid, the weaknesses in the rules and regulations in British sporting life.
Bradford is of course home to Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue—the latter is in my constituency—and I dare to suggest that these clubs are good role models. They are the sort of clubs the FA should be encouraging others to emulate. Bradford City has had its fair share of difficulties down the years, and the club knows all too well the trauma associated with entering administration. It has learned the hard way, as so many football clubs have done. Today, however, the club operates within its means, and financial security is the foundation of its ambition, not the first thing to be sacrificed in the search for glory. In addition, it maintains a policy of financial openness with its supporters, and it is right to do so. That strengthens the bond between the club and its fans and local community, and it ensures that everyone feels part of a common endeavour. Bradford City has been rewarded with increasing support.
In non-league football, Bradford Park Avenue has worked with Supporters Direct to move from a private ownership model to become a community benefit society. I am very pleased to be watching them play this coming Saturday. I am also looking forward to becoming a member of Bradford Park Avenue community football club at half time. Club members commit to many great objectives, but the one I am struck by is the commitment to provide sporting facilities and opportunities to all. I hope the FA will support and applaud clubs at this level of the footballing pyramid to develop the sort of approach that Bradford Park Avenue is taking to engage with its local communities. If this type of approach is strongly reflected in the plans that the FA will present to the Government in the spring, I will be heartened.
As a country, we deserve strong, representative and accountable governance in the governing bodies of all our sports. Today’s debate will identify a whole raft of failings in the governance of the Football Association. What is more shocking is not that the governance of the FA is in need of fundamental reform—that is a settled point—but that the FA leadership have been so grossly ineffective in introducing reforms in the face of criticism from the cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee. At best they are dragging their feet; at worst they are wilfully failing to act.
As the governing body of a major British sport, the FA is arguably above all else a public institution, even if it is a private registered company. As public institutions, governing bodies receive public funding, and they have the honour and privilege of having under their leadership the regulation and oversight of British sporting life. It is only right that we hold them to high standards.
Strong accountability is critical, not only for the sake of strong governance, but because a sports governing body has an important role in agreeing, overseeing and enforcing its rules. Sport is competitive on the field and in a business sense. The search for success and the drive to achieve and excel at the highest possible level can often mean that lines become blurred.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins). In a previous life, I reported on both Bradford City and their run in the Intertoto cup—we had a trip to see Zenit Saint Petersburg—and the Bradford Bulls in their successful time, with grand final wins, world club challenges and Challenge cups. I welcome her passion for the sporting clubs in the great city of Bradford.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I must also declare that, as a Huddersfield Town fan, I am delighted that my team is still in the FA cup, but slightly perplexed that the television companies have not picked our mouth-watering fifth round tie at home to Manchester City for live broadcast. Perhaps they will cover us in the quarter finals, when we might be playing Sutton United.
I must also put on record my thanks to the FA’s delivery partner, the Football Foundation, which has invested almost £600,000-worth of grants in my Colne Valley constituency. That includes £340,000 to Hepworth United for a new changing pavilion, and a grant of £53,000 for Honley cricket club and Honley junior football club for the refurbishment and extension of existing changing pavilion facilities. I was involved in both bids and supported both community projects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Chairman, covered much of the ground. I want to focus on the fans. I am very lucky to support a club with a wonderful owner who is a genuine fan, Dean Hoyle. He has introduced many wonderful initiatives at my club, including season tickets for just £179. On Boxing day, two parents and two kids could see Huddersfield Town play for just £12—we won as well. The Huddersfield Town Foundation provides thousands of healthy breakfast clubs at schools, and the “Keep It Up” campaign of fans has organised bike rides that have raised more than £1 million for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the Town Academy.
Not all fans are so lucky. Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers and Coventry fans will testify to that. That is why we need reform.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be more representation from supporters groups on the FA Council?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend has probably read my next comment. I back the Football Supporters Federation recommendations, which include a minimum of five supporters’ representatives on the FA Council and, more crucially, a supporter representative on the board. Hopefully, that supporter representation could help to increase the diversity of the top decision-making levels in English football.
As we have heard, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which I am a member, has been looking at FA governance for many years. I welcome some of Greg Clarke’s early comments—he took over as chairman of the FA last August following his successful six-year spell at the Football League. The Committee report of 2011 highlighted key concerns that, over the years, have got worse. Arguably, the most worrying thing is the disproportionate influence exerted by the Premier League over the FA owing to its wealth, but other concerns are the increased lack of clarity on the ownership of clubs and, as I have just said, the lack of progress in getting supporters more influence in their clubs. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said, another concern is the lack of women and black and minority ethnic representation not only on FA boards and committees, but in coaching roles. I must declare my involvement in a small FA committee working at St George’s Park on increasing BAME representation in coaching at football clubs. A lot more needs to be done.
I want a successful England football team. I want it to give us the feel-good factor that the Olympics and Paralympics have given us. Just as the lottery millions have been well distributed to nurture talent, participation and medal success, it is important that the FA should be able to do the same for football with some of the Premier League’s billions. Club ownership, safe standing, Twenty’s Plenty, kick-off times, disabled access and tackling homophobia are all issues that need to be addressed by a reformed FA. With more supporter input, I hope that will now happen.
I hope that this debate will show that we are serious about reform. The Government are serious about reform, the DCMS Committee is serious about reform and the fans are serious about reform. It is now time for the FA’s executive board and the council to crack on and deliver those reforms.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on securing the debate. I welcome this opportunity to try to influence the Minister before she concludes her discussions with the FA on its reform.
I accept that the FA needs reform. It has proven itself to be extraordinarily weak at times—as the letter from its previous three chairmen and two chief executives said, it has been unable to wield any power over the influence of the Premier League and the Football League—but we have to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. Many of the problems we are highlighting are not caused by the unwieldy construction of the council, but the weak and feeble nature of the FA board.
What do we want the FA to achieve? In England, there is one artificial grass pitch for every 42,000 people; in Germany, there is one for every 22,000 people. In England, there is one coach per 38,000 people; in Germany, there is one per 11,000 people and in Spain one per 3,000. Since 1992, when the Premier League came into being, Germany has won the European championship and the World cup, and Spain has won the World cup and the European championship twice. The council is not at fault for the lack of investment. The enormous wealth that has come into this country has not been reflected in investment in grassroots football, or the coaches and facilities that will develop our game. When we look at reform of the FA, we have to be clear about what we want to achieve.
It is not acceptable for there to be an ancient body such as the FA Council, which has representatives from the Army, Cambridge university, independent schools, Oxford university, the Air Force and the Royal Navy. The historic construction of this organisation clearly needs reform. I favour the Football Supporters’ Federation’s recommendations. We should have fans’ representatives on the board of the FA. The time has also come for fans’ reps to be on the boards of football clubs. They are an early warning system for problems that exist in our game. It is the fans we turn to when we look to save clubs that fall into difficulties. They are of the communities from which those clubs have sprung.
We have to be clear in our aims. Who are we seeking to empower? What problems are we seeking to solve? It is wrong to just say that any reconstruction of the FA will be the right thing to do. The FA board, as currently constructed, is clearly too weak to deal with the English Football League and the Premier League. The people on the council stood up to clubs that wanted to change their colours against the will of the fans. They stood up to clubs that wanted to move grounds and change grounds’ names.
My hon. Friend is making a really powerful case. To pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), I accept that this is not just a question of structure; it is also one of power, and empowering fans to have some say has to be part of the way forward.
Absolutely. Many fans, for instance, want to see the FA have more influence over the number of home-grown players developed in our leagues. The number is woefully inadequate. Far too many of these prêt-à-porter players are imported because there is so much wealth knocking about in the Premier League; rather than develop and take a chance on a youngster, clubs buy someone off the peg and bring them in. We do not impose the rules that are there to ensure that those players contribute and add to the game. Many fans would like to see an FA that can deal with that kind of issue, and I do not see how just changing the council will make a difference.
I support the idea that there should be more independence on the board. However, I have another concern, which I will finish on. Right across sport, people from a small gene pool move about different sports and become involved in governing bodies. We need to look beyond that group of people for some real independence at the top of our national game—in other sports as well, but particularly in football.
Four minutes! Let me be clear at the outset that I want the FA to succeed. I want to be able to hold them up as an example of good—indeed, exemplary—governance across this country and beyond. I am not saying that everything that the FA does is wrong; it does many good things, which I will touch on in the time available.
The wording of the motion is strong and robust, and although it challenges the FA in the strongest terms, in many ways it echoes the frustration felt by football fans in High Peak and beyond who have written to me and to colleagues. I was going to talk at great length about my history as a football supporter, but we do not have time—I am too old.
As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I too received the letter from the three previous FA chairmen, an ex-chief executive and a previous executive director. Collectively they delivered a withering view of the intransigence of the FA and its inability to change its governance. Those men have worked within the FA: they seem to have become disillusioned and frustrated by that intransigence and have just walked away. In their words, the FA’s decision-making structure has become
“arcane and convoluted leading to a lack of clarity about the role and purpose of these structures.”
They also claim that there are examples of “short-termism” and “vested interests”, with veiled and unveiled references to the FA’s relationship with the Premier League.
The letter reeks of all these senior figures’ frustration at their inability to get the FA to reform. As they say, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee concluded in 2011 and 2013—before my time as a member of that Committee, but when the current sports Minister was one—that the FA did need reform, yet it has not been done. It is right that we have tabled the motion for debate, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), the Chairman of the Committee, for leading it, and to the Select Committee for having proposed it to the Backbench Business Committee.
I do not deny that the FA does good work, such as the good community work it does through the Football Foundation. We have benefited from significant funds across the High Peak, not least for the new changing rooms for Tintwistle Athletic at a cost of £300,000 to £400,000. I acknowledge that. The FA also acknowledges that there is need for governance reform, as the present chairman, Greg Clarke, said in his statement published on Tuesday evening.
I respect and have a lot of faith in Mr Clarke. He is combative in his defence of the FA, and I do not blame him. He says that the FA has a set of proposals to present to the Minister for her approval and I am interested to hear what she is looking for from those. However, as a fervent football supporter, I hope that Mr Clarke can resolve the matter without our having to get too heavily involved. I urge him to do so and to do so quickly.
Football is the people’s game. In recent years, as we have heard, it has had a huge influx of cash, with players earning eye-watering amounts of money, but it is still a game with 22 men—or indeed, women—kicking a football about, trying to get it into the opposition’s net. The FA is the organisation that oversees that, and it has all this growth in the football family to deal with.
On the 20th of this month, it will be the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Premier League—the juggernaut that has precipitated much of this growth. The FA has to deal with that, but the relationship has been called into question. The game is seemingly in rude health, so why is it being called into question today? There is support for the lower league. Glossop North End, in my constituency, has been in two FA Vase finals, in 2009 and 2015. In 2015, they could not sell the tickets direct and get a commission, as they did in 2009; it was done by the FA. Glossop North End got less money. It lowered the prices, but the gates were less, because of the FA. Sam Allardyce managed England for 67 days and one game, and allegedly walked away with £1 million.
Such things are destroying people’s faith in football. The FA is the governing body. It needs to address this matter, and quickly, starting with governance.
Football clubs are
“more than simply private assets”.
Those are the words of the Vote Football campaign, and they have been echoed by many Blackpool football club supporters who have written to me ahead of this debate. Blackpool has always had a proud football history, from the club’s famous 1953 FA cup final, with Stanley Matthews, to Jimmy Armfield, recognised internationally for his abilities as a footballer and as a commentator, and all the way through to the Cinderella story of our promotion to the premiership in 2010—a very proud moment in our history. I was privileged, along with tens of thousands of people on the promenade, to welcome home the team.
Sadly, however, the strife over the past four years between the club’s fans and owners is only too well known. It has resulted in thousands of people choosing to boycott Bloomfield Road in protest at the club’s running. That is why, incidentally, I backed the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) introduced that would have given accredited groups such as the Blackpool supporters’ trust greater powers and influence over how their club was run. It is a melancholy set of circumstances, not simply for Blackpool, but elsewhere, particularly in the north-west, with the issues at Blackburn and, some would argue, Bolton. That, again, is why I signed early-day motion 611, along with other Members from the north-west.
It is interesting to note what the Blackpool supporters’ trust said about the governance issues. The unprecedented pursuit of Blackpool football club supporters by the management through the civil courts on matters such as defamation, libel and trespass has made the situation far more difficult. As Steve Rowland, the chair of the supporters’ trust, has said, the FA was supposed to be the overarching guardian of the association football game in this country, but too often it has become simply a money-spinning business venture. If this debate can take us forward, serious attention can be focused on reform, the fairer representation of supporters’ rights in the way clubs are run, and more stringent rules in respect of the roles of owners and directors. That is why I also support the plans to have supporter representation on the executive board and council.
These are issues that ordinary football fans in Blackpool feel strongly about. I want to quote from two letters I have had. One reads, “They’re not just businesses like any other, but company law makes no such distinction, and the FA rules no longer do either”. My constituent Stephen Bullen, who strongly believes that clubs should be run in the best interests of the community, wrote:
“The FA has committed to investing £260 million in grassroots football over a four-year period, but…is this really enough?”
Is it getting to the grassroots? Supporters have nothing but the game’s health at heart, but they are dramatically under-represented on the FA board, as we have heard. As the Football Supporters Federation has said,
“if the governance is to be truly reflective and representative of the sport…needs to value the role of ‘consumers’ and other less traditional ‘producers’.”
I know that the sports Minister is anxious to move and frustrated at the lack of progress. I have talked to her about the problems of Blackpool football club, the chasm that has opened between the owners and the fans, and how this illustrates starkly why there needs to be a much more proactive system of governance. She responded with a set of proposals, but they are not far-reaching enough, not least in their failure to contemplate Government action. Why has it taken her Department almost six years to act? The letter from the five FA executives sums it up, and that is why it is reasonable to concur with the conclusions of the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. As someone once said, the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully. I wish the new chief executive well in his attempts to prove the Committee wrong, but there will be no harm in pressing the motion in the meantime.
Order. I am sorry, but it must be three minutes each from now on.
A foreign observer could be forgiven for looking at football in this country and wondering whether it can really be the case that the sport is poorly governed. After all, we have the most watched, admired and financially lucrative top division in world football, with attendances of over 90% every week at premier league stadiums.
As has already been pointed out, the Football Association performs some great work throughout the country, investing more than £65 million a year in grassroots football. My constituency is one of many that benefit from that. I think we should also acknowledge the great work that Greg Clarke is doing in trying to reform the FA. As a relatively new chairman, he has given some extremely encouraging signals about the direction in which he would like to take it in the coming years.
The problem is this. For many years, we have heard again and again from the FA that it recognises the deficiencies and challenges and intends to change—in fact, it has been talking about reform for 50 years—but change has not come, and time is running out. I have a great deal of respect for Greg Clarke, but I also have a feeling that his hands are tied, and that a sense of institutional inertia pervades the governance of football in this country.
In 2011 and 2013 the Culture, Media and Sport Committee produced reports on football governance and finance, and it has also highlighted problems with diversity.
I think it important that the hon. Gentleman is mentioning the good aspects of the FA. It is easy for us to criticise, and heaven knows the FA deserves criticism, but every day of the week work is being done by bodies such as the Fixtures Committee and the Disciplinary Commission, which oversees referees. A vast amount of tedious, boring administrative work is undertaken by the FA, and without it none of us would be able to enjoy the game that we love.
Indeed. As I think is clear from the tone of all the speeches that we have heard so far, we do not want to hinder the progress of football; we want to help. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a great deal of work is being done.
Some commentators have fairly and reasonably pointed out that it is a bit rich for a largely “pale, male and stale” Select Committee to lecture another organisation about diversity. It is true that there are more gentlemen called Nigel on our Committee than there are women. In fairness, however, I would respectfully point out that we deal every day with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and speak to a female parliamentary private secretary, who reports to a female sport Minister, who reports to a female Secretary of State, who reports to a female Prime Minister. I might add that our last two reports were on, respectively, access to stadiums for disabled people and homophobia in sport.
It seems to me that the main purpose of the motion is to fire a warning shot across the bows of the FA. On its own, it will not change the structure of football governance—we all know that—but the fact that we are having this debate will hopefully communicate, in no uncertain terms, just how important the issue is to MPs and our constituents, and will instil a sense of urgency within the FA board and council. I am well aware that the FA is coming up with its own proposals for reform, and I look forward to seeing them.
As I have said, my intention is not to hinder Greg Clarke and the FA’s own reform agenda, but to help. As a Tory MP, I am not greatly enthusiastic about Governments’ becoming involved in anything unless they absolutely have to, but let us be clear: if we have to intervene, we will. Talk without action is no longer an option.
A major scandal is emerging of private companies running 16-to-18 football and other sports academies funded by the Department for Education. For example, a company called Gemeg, which operates in my area, is behind a football academy serving Worksop Town football club. We and the public were told that the company was run by Doncaster College, but when it collapsed, we found that it had been run by the College of West Anglia, which is 100 miles away. West Anglia claims that the operation took place for five months in Nottingham, but I can find no evidence that anyone ever went to Nottingham for five months. That involves 23 different students, and what I do know is that zero qualified in English and zero qualified in maths, and that the FA’s safeguarding policies in schools were being breached. I make this offer to the FA. We in my area, with the local authority, the schools and the local FA, can provide best practice in safeguarding in football. At present, the systems at the grassroots are shambolic and must be overhauled.
Let me put in a word in defence for the FA. It was the FA that took action on Anelka and the quenelle. It is the FA that has taken action on racism. It is not the FA that is responsible for football clubs not employing black and Asian coaches. It is the premier league clubs, the Football League clubs, and the league clubs in other structures that is failing to do so. The FA actually has been training people up. It is the FA’s work that has led to the huge development of women’s football.
The insidious power not least of the Premier League, but also of the other professional clubs, in running the FA for their own purposes is a fundamental weakness. We should not forget people such as Jack Tarr in my area, who drew up the fixtures that made sure that Bassetlaw has more kids playing football in schools than anywhere else in Britain. We are asking the FA and the Government to give us some of this resource. If only the equivalent of the taxpayers’ bill for policing just one premier league fixture of major consequence could be put into facilities in my area. Some 600 people watched Retford versus Worksop last Saturday, but neither club owns its own ground and neither club can get investment to develop its facilities. Give us the chance to do that. These problems run deep in football, where the money runs very thick.
On safeguarding, we should use the money as leverage. We should use it as leverage on diversity and on bringing women and girls into football. We are delivering the youths; give us the chance to develop the sport. That is the real challenge for the FA. Of course its structure is outdated, but let us have some of that money from the professional game and clubs into the grassroots.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann).
I grew up in the shadow of Wembley stadium and its twin towers. I followed my local football club and I ran a Sunday football team. I am, of course, a fanatical football fan—my father helped to set up “Match of the Day”, so I think that I can speak as a true football fanatic. I am a season ticket holder—home and away—for my favourite team.
The reality is that football in this country is in the hands of the Premier League. It has the power and the finance, and it has sold out to the TV companies, which now dictate when games are played, which days they are played on and what time they kick off. Of course, huge amounts come in as a result.
At the same time, as we have heard, grassroots football across this country is not seeing that money transferred down to it, because premier league clubs are keeping the money to themselves. The FA does not do its job in representing grassroots football, in controlling the game, and in making sure that the money flows from the top to the bottom so that we can develop the young players—male and female—right across this country who we all want to see playing the beautiful game positively and in the right way. Without a change, we face stagnation in our national game and our England football team being unable to win trophies—we would all like to see them win trophies—and we do not have the quality of football that we would all want.
Wembley stadium has always been our national stadium. It is the shrine to which we go for FA cup finals, League cup finals, internationals and other events. However, it is now being transformed, with not only Tottenham playing there for a year, but Chelsea potentially playing its home matches there for three years. That, to me, is wrong, because it is an abuse of our national stadium, which should be kept for those all-important matches that fans want to see. Turning it into a stadium for clubs to use for perhaps four years or longer, is an abuse of our national stadium and we should not allow it. However, the FA, which is in charge of that national stadium, seems to be an amateur in dealing with high finance in football. We should encourage professionalism in the FA, as well as reform to it so that the situation does not get ever worse. I will conclude with this statement: it is important that the FA understands that if it does not transform itself, Government action will be required.
I should like to put on record, as chair of the all-party groups on football and on football clubs, the fact that both groups get administrative support from the Football Association.
Back in 2005, we had the Burns report, and I met Lord Burns shortly after the report was published and had discussions with him. Over the years, I have also talked about these matters to my colleague, Richard Caborn, because the report was commissioned jointly by the Government and the Football Association. The tragedy is that it has taken an awfully long time to do very little over the years. The FA council is virtually unreformed since Lord Burns talked about it.
Some progress has been made with the FA board, which now has an independent chair and two independent members, but more needs to be done. The suggestion about having a fans’ representative on the board should be taken seriously. The problem with the FA board, of course, is that it does not really run football as a whole. There is so much power because of the money coming from the Premier League, and the professional game board still has powers that have been taken away from the FA board as a whole. If we are going to have a reformed FA board, it has to be responsible for the whole of football. It has to be the governing body for every aspect of the game. That is something that we absolutely want to see.
I do not want to belittle the Premier League. It is a magnificent global brand and it has done some good things, including introducing the £30 maximum charge for away fans, but in the end, we still have a situation in which an ordinary premier league player can earn more in two months than Sheffield City Council spends on its junior football pitches in a whole year. There is something wrong with that; it shows that the balance of money in the game is all wrong. A reformed board has to be able to divert more money into grassroots football and address the cliff edge between the premier league and the English Football League.
Also, we should not belittle everything that the FA does. It has done some great things. For example, it has done really well on the women’s game at local and professional levels, and it has tackled racism. It needs to do more on homophobia, but it has started to do so. Mr Speaker, you hosted a reception at which Graeme Le Saux spoke about what the FA was doing to tackle homophobia. It is also starting to address the issue of black and minority ethnic coaches, and the English Football league has taken important initiatives in that regard as well. We want the Premier League to do more.
In Sheffield, we run the largest junior football league in Europe, under the banner of the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Football Association. The FA is now pioneering the Parklife project, which has two schemes in Sheffield, one of which is in my constituency at the Isobel Bowler sports ground. Spades are now in the ground and the scheme will be up and running in a few months’ time. The FA is taking really good initiatives such as those, despite all the problems, but there has been too much delay in regard to its governance. In Greg Clarke, we have someone who wants to see reform and we ought to back him now. However, we must make it clear that if the FA and other footballing bodies do not back him, we will ask the Government to act instead.
I do not want to go down the route of legislation to reform football governance, but the FA is supping in the last chance saloon—it has been doing so for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) knows a lot about this subject, and I agree with what he says about Greg Clarke. Having met him, I can see that he is a man who has clarity of purpose and determination, and who wants to make a difference. He has asked for time in which to do that, and we should be willing to give him some, but only a little.
Notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s comments, does he acknowledge that the Vote Football fan campaign, the Football Supporters Federation, individual supporters, grassroots organisations, parliamentarians and constituents all want change and reform? Why does he think that the FA believes otherwise? Is it not now so out of touch that there is a need for the external imposition of change?
I do not think that Greg Clarke is out of touch or that he believes otherwise. He has clarity of purpose, but the structures are inflexible and unbudging.
On the one hand we have the juggernaut of the Premier League, as my fellow member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) has described it. The league is a success and it attracts the best players. Speaking of which, was it not magnificent to be at Goodison on Saturday to see Romelu Lukaku score four, Mr Speaker? But I digress. The Select Committee was told in a letter that Premier League representatives
“regularly use their position on the FA Board”
and “their financial might” to “maintain their position”.
On the other side are the elderly gentlemen, the 25 life presidents on the FA council, whom my Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), eloquently described earlier. They are known as the blazers, not to be confused with the Glazers, as any Manchester United fans in the Chamber will know. That description reminds me of Will Carling’s famous description of the leadership of the Rugby Football Union in 1995 as “57 old farts”. That was a coarse term, Mr Speaker, but it seemed to move things on, and the RFU has since brought its governance up to date. There are arguments against the Premier League and the so-called blazers, but for me this is about the combination of both, so it is clear that legislation might be the only way of breaking the logjam of self-interest.
If I may digress slightly, there is one area on which I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). When the structures at the top are not right, the management below does not fall into place. For example, we know that the FA is failing to regulate both the power of football agents—I am told that the agent exam can be passed by an 11-year-old—and transfer negotiations, leaving the potential for a bung culture. The structures are not right, so the management and the enforcement below is not right.
The problems involving the great club of Coventry City and Sisu were mentioned earlier. Greg Clarke told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that although there are fit and proper person tests for directors and officers, there is no test of whether someone actually has the ability to run a club, which is another example of management structures not being good enough. During the Select Committee session, I talked about the tentacles of offshore ownership and untraceable money, which the FA is unable to manage. I also mentioned Vibrac Corporation, which used its base in the British Virgin Islands to loan millions of pounds to Everton, West Ham, Fulham, Reading and Southampton between 2011 and 2013 despite a lack of clarity about who actually owns it. A further problem is that the FA has little control over financial matters and appears to rely on little more than signed declarations from clubs or interested parties to say that they are fit and proper, which allows the FA to avoid responsibility. Good governance depends on the right structures at the top and on allowing the management to enforce rules that have been put in place correctly.
Greg Clarke is a good man who will fight hard to achieve his reforms. He has won friends in the amateur game by visiting every county FA in England, but he needs support and I am unsure whether he has that at the moment.
I will speak briefly, Mr Speaker.
Probably about Leicester.
I thank my hon. Friend. Leicester is the home of the English Premier League champions. My message today is one of support for the reform package that has been put forward, but I acknowledge the excellent work done over the past few years by the Chairman and other members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Of course the FA needs reform. Greg Clarke, whom I know personally, was present on the most recent occasion that I was at the King Power stadium and is a former chairman of Leicester City, and I believe that he is genuine in his desire to reform his organisation. He has made it clear that if the reforms do not go through, he will relinquish his position. Given the impressive contributions that we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, it is important that reform comes sooner rather than later, but I want to talk about the importance of diversity.
Some 25% of professional footballers happen to be of Afro-Caribbean origin, but just 17 of the 92 top clubs have a BAME coach in a senior position. When looking at how football has developed over the past few decades, it is important to acknowledge the lack of diversity. I understand that Mr Clarke wants the Government to back the proposals before they are implemented, and I hope that the package will include a recognition of the importance of diversity not just at club level but at the local level.
I am delighted that Leicester has local football teams that are developing the skills of young people whom I hope will go on not only to play for Leicester City at the King Power stadium to help us retain the premier league and beat Sevilla to win the champions league this season, but to build a foundation for the future. It is through schools and local football clubs that we find the players of the future. I hope that the Government recognise that the issues are serious, as I am sure the Minister for Sport does. I invite her to come to the King Power stadium before the end of the season to see diversity in action not just through the players, but in the ownership and in how the club’s management has developed.
It has been 50 years of hurt in the English game and we are all suffering, but at least we are not Scotland.
It is not only all the issues that have been raised by hon. Members that appear to show a structure that is unfit for purpose. We have seen not just a sequence of managers but of chairmen who have not been credible or led the FA properly. It is time for root and branch reform of the organisation and some sense of the English game being managed for the benefit of all—those at the top and those at the bottom. I want to touch briefly on some of the problems, such as the coaching problems mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). There are all sorts of problems in coaching, and we have had the recent scandal. When we talk about root and branch reform, it cannot just be about the FA, the senior structures and the picking of the England manager—although they are dreadful at that—it must be about some of the other issues at the grassroots. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) mentioned the funding of grassroots football, and that must also be part of root and branch reform.
My area has three clubs, two of which are well run. One is Accrington Stanley, and I give a shout for Andy Holt, who must be the best chairman in the football league. The other is Burnley, which is well run, but I shall move on.
Many people in the Chamber and outside will be aware of the problems of my club, Blackburn Rovers, and how poorly it is run. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester also mentioned the involvement of agents in the game, which root and branch reform must address. Three or four years ago, we had Jerome Anderson, who I think must be agent 001, who went on the television saying he was working for Blackburn Rovers. He was acting as a purchaser and advising on players, he was also an agent providing players and his son was on the books at the time, alongside other players he represented. The FA said that was not a breach. Everyone looked at that and thought, “Hang on a minute, we’ve just had half an hour’s rant from Jerome Anderson on Sky Sports.” It was clearly wrong, and the FA did nothing about it. It brings the game into disrepute.
My final point is about the owners, and I think people know what I am going to say. When we talk about a fit and proper persons test, we talk about people who perhaps should not run football clubs for financial reasons. In the case of Blackburn Rovers, it is just sheer incompetence. There is only one UK director and they have no interest in the fans or the club.
I do not know whether the Minister will be able to be on her feet by 4.50, but that is what she would like, and I know she has a fair bit to say. We will see how we get on.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate. The Chair of the Select Committee set out a powerful case and I will not rehearse too many of the points that he made. We also had fantastic contributions from other hon. Members, with the exception perhaps of the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) who took the mick out of the Scottish game.
The motion is damning, and I have little sympathy for the FA as it was given early warning of the concerns of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The first report outlining its concerns was published in 2011, and a follow-up report that stated that the football authorities had not done enough on governance reform was published in 2013. We are now, therefore, six years into the process and questions are rightly being asked about why enough has not been done to address the concerns that have been raised.
In a somewhat squeezed debate, I want to focus on the lack of diversity at the top of the FA and across the game in general. In doing so, I will primarily focus on the lack of women involved in the running of the game. The draft code of governance states that 30% of members who sit on a sports governing board should be female, and the FA fails miserably in that regard as only one woman sits on its 14-person board.
The issue does not only affect the English FA, as the Scottish Football Association also has room for improvement. Scotland goalkeeper Gemma Fay—a good St Johnstone fan like me—who has been capped more than 160 times, claims that women are not represented enough at board level and has called on the Scottish governing boards to make moves to diversify their board members.
A recent survey found that only three of 70 directors at Scotland’s top football clubs are women, which proves that the imbalance exists in boardrooms right through the game. In fairness, the Scottish Football Association has been going through step-by-step reform over the past few years to become a fully representative and modern governing body. Following the McLeish report in 2010, the SFA has been going through an ongoing process of modernisation, which includes the creation of a new congress to replace the so-called blazers of the past with the first fully representative group of stakeholders.
The creation of the congress has meant that clubs and affiliates are now joined by recognised bodies such as Professional Footballers Association Scotland, the Scottish Managers and Coaches Association, the Scottish Senior Football Referees Association, the Scottish Football Writers Association and SportScotland. The congress deals with many issues, and its work includes looking at ways of increasing the numbers and influence of women in the game.
For a long time, and many moons ago, Maureen McGonigle, the founder of Scottish Women in Sport, was the only woman involved with the SFA at any senior level. She sat on the SFA non-professional game board and is the only woman to have received a long-service medal from the SFA council. She was the only woman on the council for 14 years, and casual sexism was rampant in those days. Maureen gives an example:
“One of the first dinners I went to was for the opening of the South Stand at Hampden. I was at a table with all of the Scottish FA council wives while my work colleagues were sitting elsewhere. Afterwards I wrote to Jim Farry”—
the then SFA chief executive—
“and said ‘I’m not a wife, I’m actually a worker.’ I then became the first woman to sit at a men’s table at one of the dinners. To be fair, I was always treated well within the council but they never knew how to address me. It was always: ‘Good morning gentlemen …and Maureen.’”
Despite the welcome progress that I have outlined, the SFA professional board still has no female members. It is fair to say that a dramatic increase in the pace of change is required.
It is also fair to say that two of the most impressive people currently operating in the Scottish game are women. A few weeks ago I attended a sports policy conference in Edinburgh, and we were lucky to hear from Ann Budge who, after leading a takeover of Hearts, has spearheaded a huge change in fortune for the Tynecastle club and was named Scottish Professional Football League chief executive officer of the year in 2016.
Meanwhile, the club’s Edinburgh rival, Hibernian, has an inspirational chief executive in Leeann Dempster. I was lucky to be a guest of Leeann at Easter Road a few months ago, and she was eager to discuss a community programme on which the club has embarked. Most clubs these days have a community trust, some more effective than others, but GameChanger takes it to a different level by involving more than 100 partners from the public, private and third sectors, culminating in a public social partnership between the club, business and the national health service. It is about using Hibernian’s assets to improve the lives and life chances of all in Edinburgh and the Lothians, not just Hibs fans. Leeann has strong opinions about the governance of the game, and she thinks that there are still not enough women involved, particularly at the decision-making level.
The FA has a slogan: “football for all.” It always talks about how sport should be for everyone, but how can that be the case when, at senior level, there is a glass ceiling for those who are not white and male? Furthermore, the FA chairman’s recent comments on homophobia within the game, advising against players coming out, almost serve to highlight that point. The advice not to come out because the FA cannot protect those players is inherently wrong and is an abdication of leadership on a hugely important issue, undermining some of the FA’s good work.
Instead of urging people to remain silent about their sexuality, the FA chairman should be doing all he can to ensure that football is a place for everyone. Anyone who dares to abuse a player because of their sexuality, ethnicity, religion or anything else is not welcome at football matches. Moreover, if a particular club has repeat offenders within its fan base, the club should be punished with larger fines and point deductions. That is the correct approach, and it underlines the faults within the FA.
The FA is a governing body, and it has a responsibility to clubs, players, managers and supporters to send out messages and to set the right standards for all those involved in the game. Football is massively important to all the home nations. It is our national game, and more than 12 million people play. It is woven into the very fabric of our society. Despite all that, football has to change and adapt to the modern environment in which it finds itself. This is not about the Government interfering in the affairs of the game; it is about ensuring that the FA meets its slogan about being a game for everyone. We need to open the boardroom to people from all backgrounds, and the time is long overdue for supporters and people from diverse backgrounds to be involved in the running of the national game.
It is clear from the speeches made by Government and Opposition Members alike that football really is close to all our hearts. Like the Minister, I grew up playing football and, like us all, I am sure, as a fan I have gone through the highs and lows of watching my team throwing away a game in the final minutes or winning spectacularly on the world stage—although for that, I suppose it depends on which team one supports. In the spirit of diversity, I wish to put on record that I am very glad that both my friend the Minister and I are women.
The purpose of this debate is unfortunately not to discuss the highs and lows of football, but to debate confidence in the Football Association. Rigorous governance and the following of proper and due process is vital for governing bodies such as the FA, so that it can work properly and in the best interests of its players, coaches, match officials, stadium staff and fans. Rigorous governance allows us to build trust—trust not only of the governing body itself, but among those who make up the game.
With rigorous governance come positive outcomes: outcomes that ensure support at a grassroots level to increase the participation of women and girls in a sport that is currently dominated by the men’s game, and outcomes that see diverse representation across all levels. Rigorous governance also ensures that governing bodies serve to the fullest extent all stakeholders, perhaps most importantly the supporters.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend most warmly on her appointment as the shadow sports Minister. I refer to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in respect of Leicester City football club and myself.
My hon. Friend mentions diversity. Bearing in mind her discussions with the FA, does she believe that there should be a target for ethnic or gender representation, or would she leave it to the FA to come up with its own outcomes?
That is a good question. I have met Greg Clarke and representatives from the FA on several occasions, and I do believe that Mr Clarke deeply understands the importance of diversity, at every level. I truly do believe he feels that. Putting in quotas would perhaps add some value, but we need to ensure that women and people from ethnic minority groups also feel empowered to apply for jobs, not only on the field but in the boardroom. It is also important that we have role models.
Like all governing bodies, the FA has duties, one of which is governing the game with integrity. It cannot fulfil its duty unless it has strong governance, and currently it is not performing well enough. That needs to change. There is no cushioning around this point: the FA must do more. In 2011, Lord Burns said that the FA Council, at 118 members, was too large; today, the council has 122 members. As we have already heard, the council is made up of only eight women and four representatives from black and minority ethnic groups.
Not only is diversity not in the heart of the FA; it is not in its body or, indeed, even in its soul. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke of the importance of nurturing more home-grown talent. The FA has accepted those and other current failings, but it must now move on from the criticisms and make a clear path forwards on to a road of good governance. If it does not, it will only have a detrimental effect on the game.
Despite all that, we must not sideline the hard work and determination of many within the FA. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made an excellent point about the work that has been undertaken to combat racism, and we must acknowledge as positives the aim to double female participation by 2030 and the Lionesses placing third in rankings of our country’s favourite teams. Some £22 million a year is invested into the grassroots game, and with more flexibility being seen in the form of five-a-side and walking football, a larger proportion of the population has the opportunity to get involved. Those are not small steps; they are ambitious, and that should not be taken away from the FA.
Nevertheless, just as the Football Association has a duty, so do we in this Chamber. We have a duty to follow due process. A process has been laid before all national governing bodies, and it must be adhered to. If not, we will be moving the goalposts—as it were—and it will be us who ensure a detrimental effect on the game of football. I do not wish to do that.
All national governing bodies have been given until April this year to lay their plans before the Government and show their reforms. That is a timetable and a process that we must stick to. We cannot single out individual governing bodies. Parliament must live up to its duty. We cannot shift the goalpost for some, and leave them cemented in for others. Having said that, we must make the Football Association aware that this is its last opportunity. In an evidence session of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in December, the Minister stated that she believed that financial penalties—that of removing £30 million of funding to the FA as well as withholding support for a World cup bid—would be severe enough for the FA to take notice and make reforms. However, respectfully, I disagree. Further in the evidence session, the Minister stated that funding would still be given to the game of football, but through different means. This, therefore, does not have a significant effect on the game.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) quoted life vice-president, Barry Taylor, who said that the governing body is rich enough to stand alone and that it should resist change that would see a more independent board and an end to the current council’s structure. That makes it blatantly clear that funding cuts are not, and never will be, a driving factor for reform.
A World cup bid would also not be likely until 2030, which, therefore, provides no time-sensitive pressure on the FA to reform. After today’s comments by the life vice-president, I ask the Minister whether she still stands by those comments.
Many in this House today have brought forward the concept of legislation, but that must be used as a last resort. It must be made known to the FA that legislation will, without doubt, be drawn up if, in April, plans presented to the Government are not of a sufficient nature and reform cannot be seen. Does the Minister agree that if, in April, the Football Association’s plans are not sufficient, the only next step to take is legislation?
Will the Minister commit today that if, in April, the FA is unable to show significant progress towards levelling out the playing field when it comes to diversity on both the board and the council and subsequently not meeting the mandatory aspect of the governance code for “greater parity and greater diversity”, she will take action against the FA?
What I have wanted to highlight today is that we cannot, and should not, jump the gun. It is for that reason that, at this time, I cannot stand by a motion of no confidence. However, I will stand extremely firm in April. My message today is this: reform is necessary, and progress must be seen. If that is not the case, then the time for self-reform is up. We owe that to all those who participate now and those who will participate in the future.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and members of the Select Committee for securing this Backbench Business debate this afternoon. Members have spoken with great passion and insight on a subject that we all should, and do, care deeply about. However, although this debate is important, it is, none the less, a few weeks premature for reasons that I shall explain in my speech.
We need to be careful that we do not tarnish the growth and success of English football because of concerns about governance at the FA. To do so would denigrate the hard work, dedication and commitment of the thousands of volunteers at grassroots level right up to the professionalism of the majority of coaches, players and clubs at elite level.
When I sat in front of the Select Committee recently— and indeed during this debate—Members were sceptical about the incentive to remove public funding from the FA if it did not comply with our governance reforms. That scepticism was reinforced this morning in an open letter from the FA’s life vice-president, Barry Taylor, to all 120 members of the council. He said:
“We have the money, we have the power. Let them stop the money. How did we manage to build Wembley and St George’s Park, I ask?”
The answer to Mr Taylor’s question is—with Government money. In fact, the Government bailed out the FA with £160 million of public money to build Wembley stadium. We gave it £6 million to help it complete St George’s Park. We gave Government guarantees for the 2018 World cup bid and a similar underwriting for staging the champions league finals at Wembley and the European championship semi-finals and final in 2020. Furthermore, tens of millions of pounds is given through Sport England to help the FA grow and sustain grassroots football in this country. Some £10 million is given each year to the Football Foundation charity that we partner with the FA and premier league, which has built and upgraded thousands of new grassroots sports facilities across the country. That is on top of the £30 million that the FA has had over the past four years to grow the game in other areas. Although Mr Taylor and others might not see the threat of removing public money as a serious one, they should just reflect that it is not just about the millions of pounds that they get from Sport England but all the other financial aspects as well.
Fortunately, the view of Mr Taylor is not that of the FA executive, for it knows that had it not been for Government support, hundreds of grassroots clubs would have disappeared. We would not have a national football stadium, or be able to host prestigious European matches. This Government, and previous Governments, intervened because we recognised the ambition that the FA had for football in this country, and Government share in the FA’s future ambitions. When it told us that good quality facilities and coaching were needed to support the grassroots and produce better players, we backed it, without hesitation, by committing a further £50 million over the course of this Parliament, which was over and above the figures that I have already mentioned, to its flagship Parklife project.
The Government’s intention is clear. We want to support the grassroots, amateur and professional game as a whole. In my discussions with the FA executive, its members tell me that they value their relationship with Government and that the vital public money they receive, directly or in partnership, is helping them to deliver important initiatives on the ground. However, that public money—money that, incidentally, many members of the public do not think a wealthy sport such as football should have—has to come with conditions.
The UK code of governance for sport, published last October, was not written specifically for the FA, but it is not exempt from it. The code will help to ensure that all sports governing bodies are moving in the right direction and are creating the most effective environment for their sports to thrive. It will protect public investment in sport by ensuring that transparency, controls and financial probity are a prerequisite for all organisations in receipt of public money. It challenges sports bodies to reflect on whether their current structures are effective. I genuinely do not think that we are asking sporting bodies to do more than what we would expect from good corporate governance. Frankly, what right do we have to criticise the governance of FIFA if the nation’s Football Association is not transparent in its own decision-making process? Good governance equals better decision making. Reform of the governance structures at the FA will undoubtedly permeate football at all levels.
We have heard today that the FA has lagged behind the times, that it is unrepresentative of the people who play and support the game, and that it is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to unlock the stranglehold of vested interests. I do not disagree with most of that sentiment. The FA concentrated its grassroots efforts on the traditional 11-a-side parks game. The result saw participation stagnate and, at certain times, decline. The FA was slow to recognise that people’s playing habits were changing along with their lifestyles. For too long, the FA failed to realise the true potential of women’s and girls’ football, nor what women can bring to the game off the pitch. But given that a leading member of the FA Council referred to a woman’s role in football as washing the kit while I—an FA qualified coach, manager of a girls’ team and, oh, Sports Minister—sat two seats away from him on a platform, it is little wonder there are so few women sitting in influential positions at the FA. Other areas of diversity remain a challenge for the FA, and I look forward to the Select Committee’s report on homophobia in sport, which I am sure will address the issue of how football could do more to support male gay players.
Yesterday, Members saw the open letter that the chairman, Greg Clarke, sent to the council. He knows that by the end of March, before the code comes into effect, the FA should have in place an action plan agreed with Sport England that sets out what steps the FA is taking to become compliant with the code, and the timescale for achieving each target. He says that if it does not comply, he “will have failed” and he will resign. It is true; he will have failed. But that will be as a consequence of his own board and council failing him, not because the Government have set an unreasonable challenge of achieving good governance. I accept that the FA has not wholly delivered on this promise of reform in the past, but where we are today with the mandatory code is different from where we have been before. The code acts as a yardstick against which we can benchmark all our sports governing bodies.
We should be proud of what football has achieved, but we must also reflect on what else it can and needs to improve on. We can ensure that support goes into grassroots football without going through the FA. Only 30% of grassroots football is delivered through the FA. It is up to the FA if it wishes to play Russian roulette with public money. Given the debate we have had today and the number of representations received by me and other Members, I think it is fair to say that the FA will lose. In my opinion and the opinions of other colleagues, the FA’s current model does not stand up to scrutiny. Reform is therefore required, and the governing body has every opportunity to bring that about itself.
Although I believe that today’s vote of no confidence in the FA is six weeks’ premature, it and other governing bodies should be fully aware that the clock is ticking fast, and that failure to reform will lead to not just the withdrawal of public money but further consideration of legislative, regulatory and financial options to bring about the changes needed. If we want better governance of football across the world, let it begin here.
If the hon. Gentleman wants 30 seconds, he can have them.
The message from this debate is absolutely clear: no change is no option. The debate on this issue has been running for too long, and the FA, to use a football analogy, is not only in extra time but at the end of extra time; it is in Fergie time and it is 1-0, down and if it does not pick up quickly and reform itself, reform will be delivered to it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has no confidence in the ability of the Football Association (FA) to comply fully with its duties as a governing body, as the current governance structures of the FA make it impossible for the organisation to reform itself; and calls on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals to reform the governance of the FA.