Create regulator to fix ‘broken’ governance of English football, ministers told

An independent football regulator should be established in England to address the “failing governance” in the game, ministers have been told.

Conservative former sport minister Helen Grant made the suggestion as she accused the Football Association (FA) of being “outdated and out of touch”.

The issue was raised in the Commons as Ms Grant introduced her Football (Regulation) Ten Minute Rule Bill, which would seek to establish the body.

Ms Grant explained that the regulator would have the power to distribute funds, to introduce a “comprehensive” licensing system for professional football clubs, review the causes of financial stress in the game and bring forward reforms to “modernise and strengthen” the FA.

The regulator would also aim to work with supporters’ groups, as well as promoting diversity and inclusion within the game.

The Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald told the Commons: “The governance of English football is broken. Our national game, the beautiful game is in crisis.

“These issues are not new but have been laid bare and amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic during which sadly football has failed to speak with one voice.

“We’ve seen much-loved clubs go to the wall, sadly many more may well follow.

“And at the heart of this is broken governance and gross financial disparities between the rich clubs and the poor clubs and unsustainable business models.

“Indeed, it’s staggering that the wage bills of Championship clubs are equal to 110% of their revenues – just one example of the downward spiral as lower league clubs seek the financial nirvana that Premier League promotion dangles.

“Ultimately, it’s the loyal football supporters and communities up and down the country who suffer the most.

“Football is different to any other sector of the economy, it’s not just a business, this is our national sport.

Helen Grant
Helen Grant

“Our football clubs are societal assets at the beating hearts of towns and cities, making a huge contribution to the culture and identity of our nation.

“We in this place (the House of Commons) and the other place (the House of Lords) surely have responsibility to protect them from maladministration, blinkered leadership and commercial suicide.”

Ms Grant took aim at the lack of progress on addressing the link between dementia and heading footballs, which she described as “tantamount to negligence”.

She said: “Football’s failing governance has been clear for many years but again and again, football has failed to reform itself.

“The conflicts that have dogged the game’s integrity and financial probity have become more obvious under the current pandemic.

“In recent weeks, the authorities have failed to show decisive leadership on whether matches should be paused due to a rise in Covid infections.

“The FA chairman resigned after using offensive language, showing himself to be out of touch with the modern players, the modern game and indeed modern Britain.

“We’ve also witnessed the tragically slow progress on addressing the link between dementia and heading footballs. For me, this demonstrates a failure that’s tantamount to negligence.”

Ms Grant also said there are powerful stakeholders in the game that are “too invested and too self-interested” to bring about necessary change.

She told MPs: “The Football Association, allegedly the governing body of the game, I’m afraid to say is outdated and out of touch. Its own governance leaves much to be desired.

“Frankly, it’s not up to the mammoth task of driving through reforms that football so desperately needs.

“And other powerful stakeholders within the game are too invested and too self-interested to bring about the changes required.

“Even as I speak today, the Premier League are midway through a lengthy governance review of their own, but to me this feels like students marking their own homework.

“And does anyone seriously expect them to make the radical and fundamental changes needed across the wider professional and grassroots game? I think not.

“So now is the time for fundamental reform. Reform that can only be achieved through the creation of an independent football regulator.”

The MP said that similar steps have previously been taken by lawmakers in France, Spain and Germany in order to ensure fairness in the governance of football.

She explained: “A regulator appointed by this Bill would be absolutely independent, funded from within football, not by public money and would not require government to run the game.”

Ms Grant concluded: “Association football is the most popular sport in the entire world. It’s played by over 250 million people in over 200 countries and it was born in England 150 years ago.

“It is a huge part of community life across the length and breadth of our country, but if we want to protect and preserve that fabulous heritage for generations into the future, our football governance needs emergency surgery and it needs that surgery now.

“So let’s drive through the radical change required, let’s create an independent football regulator and let’s make governance of the beautiful game that we all know and love fit for the 21st century.”

A specified date for Ms Grant’s Bill to be heard a second time in Parliament has not been set and it would need Government support to progress.