Playing games

Wilf StevensonWilf Stevenson on the government’s continued dithering over football governance

It was the late Bill Shankly who said that football was more important than life or death. 

As we gear up to the start of the new season, that old saw rings true for many in our country, which makes the government’s recent inaction over the need to reorganise the governance of football in England all the more surprising. It is now nearly two years since the government called for “immediate action” to resolve the concerns raised by the DCMS Select Committee, and promised legislation if the current governing bodies did not agree plans for implementation by February 2012.   

The key question is the relative power and authority of the FA and the Premier League. There is no doubt that the latter can provide a huge social, economic and cultural benefit to the UK – notwithstanding concerns about its long term sustainability, and commitment to reinvestment in grassroots and communities. And there are questions to be answered about the relationship of the Premier League to the FA, and to the Football League. 

All of these issues are detailed in the DCMS Select Committee Report of July 2011, which the government responded to three months later in Football Governance: Response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry. But it is interesting to note that the Select Committee revisited maters in a trenchant follow-up Report of January 2013, to which Ministers have yet to respond.

Now it’s not for government to run football. Sports are best governed by modern, transparent, accountable and representative national governing bodies, which are able to act decisively in the long-term interests of the sport. The DCMS however, are on record (in its October 2011 reply) as saying the Select Committee “lays out in stark detail the way in which the existing structures, governance arrangements and relationships have failed to keep pace with the challenges and expectations surrounding the modern game”. 

And the response also states that the government are: “fully committed to ensuring that the changes put forward by the football authorities make a lasting and substantive difference. If that does not happen the Government will introduce a legal requirement on the Football Association to implement the appropriate governance clauses by the swiftest possible means. To do that the Government will seek to secure, using all available channels, appropriate legislation as soon as Parliamentary time allows.”

So when will DCMS get around to implementing its plans? And when will we see the legislation?

Football supporters up and down the country recognise the strength and importance of the Premier League, but they also feel excluded from the groups and individuals who own the clubs. As a result the communities which host their stadia, and the supporters who often live and breathe the football played there have little or no say in decisions. The DCMS Select Committee has produced two powerful reports and Ministers need to get their act together and take the requisite action. 

Football may not be as important as life or death, but the government neglect these issues at their peril.

Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is a Labour Peer, and a member of the Shadow BIS and DCMS teams

Published 25th July 2013

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