British MPs step up pressure on English FA to reform

Clashes of politics and sport tend to be strident and messy, and such is the case in England, where Ministers of Parliament are set to debate a vote of no confidence in the English Football Association next week.

The FA is deemed as outmoded and out of touch, and its glacial efforts on reform have left its former members and other officials angry and frustrated. The FA council, which is supposed to represent all levels and facets of the game in England, consists of 122 members, 92 of whom are at least 60. Only eight are female. There is one fan representative and just three ex-players, exactly one younger than 70. Four members -- 3.3 percent -- fall under the classification of BAME, i.e., black, Asian and minority ethnic.

So the perception that the FA is dominated by elderly white men is more truth than supposition, and also unquestioned is the fact they do little to oppose decisions made by the board, which consists mainly of Premier League and Football League executives beholden to interests most relevant to the professional game.

Next Thursday in the House of Commons a vote of no confidence will be debated. If approved, the FA could lose 30 million pounds ($37.5 million) in public funding, which would be diverted to other organizations that serve the game, if by April it has not shown significant progress in making its board and council more representative, i.e., diverse.

Frustrated by a lack of movement for more than a decade, several former FA chairman and executives banded together and in December sent a letter to the government’s culture, media and sport committee urging legislative action to enact change.

The three most recent FA chairman -- Greg Dyke, David Bernstein and David Triesman –- were joined by ex-director David Davies and former general secretary Alex Horne. As reported in The Guardian, they say the FA as currently constituted cannot “counter the EPL juggernaut.”

In response, legislation has been drawn up and on Thursday will be debated this motion: “That this house has no confidence in the ability of the Football Association to comply fully with its duties as a governing body, as the current governance structures of the FA make it impossible for the organization to reform itself; and calls on the government to bring forward legislative proposals to reform the governance of the FA.”

Claims by current chairman Greg Clarke and chief executive Martin Glenn that they are committed to reform have not convinced the special committee, which issued a statement that read, in part, “It is clear that the FA does not comply with this guidance now and there appears to be considerable resistance to the idea of changing its very out-of-date structure at all. The committee is therefore preparing a draft bill to bring the structure of the FA -- which is, in legal terms, a company -- into line with modern company law.”

Damian Collins, the chair of the select committee, acknowledges the threat of withdrawing funding may not influence the FA at all. He contributed to a pair of reports issued during the last Parliament urging reform.

“The current minister for sport told the committee that the FA had been given six months from publication of the government’s guidance in October 2016 to demonstrate that it was willing to improve governance, otherwise public money would be withdrawn from the FA and distributed to football through other means,” said Collins.

“We do not believe that the FA will comply voluntarily: it can survive easily without the government’s contribution of money to grassroots sport, and there are powerful vested interests that refuse to accept the right of all those involved in football to play a role in the governance of the sport.

“We are therefore preparing a draft bill to bring the structure of the FA, especially its board and council, more into line with modern company practice and the government’s guidelines for sports bodies.”

An FA spokesperson has responded with a statement that read: “We are aware of the discussions next week around governance. The Government announced a code for governance for sports governing bodies last year and we are working to their timeline for implementation later in the year. Football like all sports is following due process and we remain committed to working with the Government towards compliance with the code.”

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