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MP calls for Government to clean up the game

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Graham Jones MP has proposed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, asking the Government to urgently intervene to tackle corruption and poor ownership in the game. Here he tells us more about his motion…

Last month, I sponsored an Early Day Motion about governance and corruption in English football.

It came in response to the news that our (now former) England manager, Sam Allardyce, had resigned after just 67 days in the job. An investigation by The Telegraph had revealed a widespread use of ‘bungs’ in the transfer market: coaches were given secret financial payoffs in order to make a transfer happen. Bungs undermine football by influencing decision-making on financial, rather than sporting, grounds. And worse still, they can amount to fraud and enable tax evasion.

Embarrassingly, our own England manager was caught up in the mix and subsequently resigned.

But what surprised me about the resignation was neither its speed nor the circumstances surrounding it. Rather, that people up and down the country were unsurprised by allegations of corruption at the highest level of football. People have become used to cronyism and dodgy dealings as a normal part of the game.

For years, professional football has been beset by a lack of transparency. Fans have been increasingly excluded from the management of their clubs. And profits and financial gain have become the governing doctrines of the game. 

At Coventry City, fans have been in a long-running dispute with its hedge-fund owners, Sisu. A new petition is gathering steam calling for the owner to sell the club.

At Portsmouth, successive sales between, and mismanagement by, Middle Eastern owners have meant its Supporters’ trust had to assume control in 2013.

At Leeds, the current owner faces fresh allegations of corruption.

At Charlton Athletic, fans are protesting against Roland Duchatelet’s management and a protest group called CARD has been set up to this end.

And at my own club, Blackburn Rovers, fans continue to demand a change in ownership after Venky’s excessive financial mismanagement and breaches of Premier League rules. In 2014, I campaigned with fellow Blackburn fans against the secrecy of the club’s ownership and decision-making, standing in the freezing cold during a 24-hour protest.

Too busy protecting its old boys’ club instead of addressing these problems; the FA has become a byword for ineptitude and inaction, standing by while successive proprietors failed its own ‘fit and proper persons’ test. It couldn’t even manage a successful World Cup bid – losing out to Russia.

We, as supporters, can no longer sit by and wait for the FA to reform. It neither has the means nor the will. It is for this reason that Gary Lineker, along with others, stated that ‘it’s time for proper police investigation into such allegations’. No one has faith that the FA can provide the answers to the gaping questions in professional football.

This is why I am calling on the government to take some initiative and address these problems head-on.

So far, its efforts have been paltry. The Sports Minister’s report in January 2016 into supporter ownership did not come close to providing supporters with enough opportunities to take a meaningful stake in clubs which had not collapsed financially. Likewise, it contained little practical help to assist fans who wanted to build a stake in their club during periods of solvency. 

By contrast, Labour committed to transforming football ownership.

In 2014, Labour’s Shadow Sports Minister, Clive Efford, launched proposals that would have instigated the biggest shake-up in the history of football governance. They included a requirement that supporters come together to form a single accredited trust. And in return, supporters would get the right to appoint and remove up to a quarter of a club’s board of directors, as well as being able to purchase up to 10% of shares when a club changes ownership.

The government has a chance to clean up professional football once and for all. In Parliament, the cross-party Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee is carrying out its own inquiry into football, while outside of Westminster fans are demanding greater stakes in their clubs. There has never been more demand for reform in the game and the Tories ignore it at their peril. 

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don’t necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Action Images for the picture used in this blog.

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