Wed, Jan 30, 2013 - Page 18 News List

English soccer may face new laws

By Owen Gibson  /  The Guardian, London

Radical proposals to overhaul the way English soccer is run could be backed by new legislation, following a withering parliamentary report criticizing the failure to introduce new financial controls and increase the influence of fans.

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee yesterday accused the Football Association (FA), the Premier League and the Football League of a “very disappointing” response to its report published in July 2011, which followed a wide-ranging inquiry into the governance of the game.

Unless there was “clear progress” in 12 months on those measures, the government should legislate “as soon as practicable,” the committee says.

It wanted the FA to restructure its main board to assert its independence, overhaul the FA Council to make it more representative, introduce tough new rules on financial regulation and increase the influence of supporters on how their clubs were run.

British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said: “We welcome the report from the select committee, which shows the will there is across parliament for football to modernize and change for the better.”

“We have been clear that we want the football authorities to carry out the reforms they promised by the start of the 2013-2014 season — most notably around improved governance and diverse representation at the FA, the development of a licensing system and greater financial transparency. If football does not deliver then we will look at bringing forward legislation,” Robertson said.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the committee, said the FA and the two league bodies “simply don’t address the fundamental problems” and that “much greater reform in football is needed to make the game inclusive, sustainable and driven from the grassroots.”

In particular, he said, the committee was very disappointed with soccer’s response to the call for a new licensing system run by the FA to bring some sanity to the game’s overheated finances.

Successive ministers have urged the FA to reform its structure, but progress has been painfully slow. The comparatively modest reforms suggested by Lord Burns in 2005 have yet to be enforced in full.

“We urge the authorities to be more radical and more urgent in addressing the problems faced by the game, because of the weaknesses in its governance structure, both at FA and club level,” the committee said.

The select committee argues that the FA should be an over-arching regulator for the game, able to dictate long-term strategy and direction. The Premier League, in contrast, argues it has always been an “association of interests” that exists to reflect the views of its “shareholders.”

MPs make explicit that they believe the game to be too much in thrall to the influence of the Premier League. If anything, the committee concludes, soccer’s proposals may lead to greater capture by the Premier League and “the regulated controlling the regulator.”

It also called for fundamental overhaul of the FA Council, which is frequently criticized for a lack of diversity, and concrete proposals for greater fan influence at every club. The FA Council has 118 members, many of whom have served for more than 20 years, while two-thirds are aged 64 or over.

MPs also criticized the soccer authorities and government for failing to bring forward “more detailed proposals for the involvement and consultation of supporters and supporters groups.”

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