Debbie Hewitt is set to be confirmed as the Football Association’s new chair next month and is due to take up the position in January 2022.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key challenges facing the organisation’s first female chair in its history.
Sex abuse inquiry
The independent review of football’s sex abuse scandal was published on March 17 and outlined a series of safeguarding recommendations for the FA to implement. Hewitt will be instrumental in helping to ensure these are carried out and followed through in full.
Football’s way forward
The Premier League’s strategic review, which stepped up in pace after the rejection of the controversial Project Big Picture plans last October, is ongoing and is set to consider issues such as the size of the league, the future of cup competitions and the revenue distribution model in the game. Hewitt’s predecessor Greg Clarke was heavily involved in the initial PBP discussions and while the Premier League is leading the review, the FA and the EFL are still being consulted. The FA is also conducting its own inquiry into the failed Super League launch in April and working with the Government on updating competition laws to protect sport from similar breakaways in the future. A fan-led review commissioned by the Government will also consider whether the existing governing bodies are fit for purpose and whether an independent regulator is needed.
World Cup 2030
The FA, along with the other British associations and Ireland, is set to decide next year whether to launch a bid for the centenary tournament. Even though Hewitt will not replace Clarke as a FIFA vice-president, she will still be a key figure in any bid if it goes forward, and her position as European non-executive chair at Visa – one of FIFA’s global partners – cannot hurt. There are many hurdles to overcome, with rival bids possible from Spain-Portugal and a group of South American countries, the continent which hosted the first finals in 1930.
England manager Gareth Southgate’s contract runs until the end of next year’s World Cup in Qatar, with the delayed Euro 2020 finals starting this week. Unless England enjoy stunning success in one or both of those competitions, the likelihood is Hewitt will be involved in helping to identify the right successor to lead the men’s team.
Ensuring diversity, tackling discrimination
Clarke made a series of offensive remarks at a parliamentary committee hearing, and at one stage suggested ethnic groups had “different career interests”. Hewitt will want to ensure the FA leads by example in having as diverse a workforce as possible. The FA under Hewitt will also be one of the leading voices in the continued fight to combat discrimination on social media and in venues when spectators return.
The FA is preparing to fund further research into what causes the link between a career in football and an increased risk of death due to neurodegenerative disorders, while also working on guidelines around heading in training and trialling permanent concussion substitutes. Hewitt will also be keenly aware that legal actions are being considered on behalf of the families of footballers suffering from dementia. In a similar action already launched in rugby union, the governing bodies of England and Wales were served with a letter of claim.