Trust evidence to MPs on way football is run

Trust chair Tim Hartley submitted further written evidence to the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee

I am writing to you on behalf of the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, a democratic, not-for-profit organisation that aims to represent supporters by way of securing influence at our club. We are part of the Supporters’ Trust movement, which more than 170 members in the UK. Over 300,000 people are members of a Supporters’ Trust in the UK. Our current membership stands at more than 700.

As Chair of the Cardiff Trust, I would like to express our concern over the potential outcome of your 2011 inquiry into Football Governance. As you will of course be aware, your July report recommended a number of positive reforms, particularly in areas such as a formal licensing model, supporter engagement, unhealthy debt levels, financial instability and increased protection from poor ownership.

In October of last year, the Government delivered an endorsement of your proposals, providing a rock-solid mandate for the football authorities to enact lasting change to the way our game operates, both on and off the pitch. Unfortunately, it appears that the Football Association (FA), Premier League and Football League have declined the invitation to do so.

In their response, dated 29 February 2012, the authorities acknowledged, “the responsibility we share to grow and protect our sport”, but in the very areas highlighted by your Committee as in need of urgent reform, their proposals are largely undeveloped, and ultimately disappointing.

In particular our main concerns are focused on:

  • The weakness of the football authorities’ proposals for reform of the FA. There is no immediate further reform of the FA Board and their proposals do not address the key issue of its composition. The only change to the council is that the committees will no longer report to them, instead to the Board. No proposals to alter the membership of the FA have been made.
  • The proposals from the FA on club licensing are very minimal and will not stem the chronic problems of unsustainable debt, loss of assets and failing football clubs. In addition the requirement that any “add-ons” require the approval of the Professional Game Board (PGB) and/or the National Game Board (NGB) is of real concern, as is the responsibility of leagues to develop the content of their own license. Supporters Direct produced a paper outlining a proposed club licensing system that would also include a progressive pathway for increased rights and responsibilities, something which would also largely satisfy the coalition pledge.
  •  The lack of proposals for a solution to provide funding for the long term future of Supporters Direct. We welcomed the Select Committee’s recommendation that “the football authorities must work quickly towards a long term funding solution that allows Supporters Direct to develop its role assisting supporters’ trust organisations and makes realistic assumptions of Supporter Direct’s own fundraising potential.” Equally welcome was the Government response, which stated “the Government believes that a solution to provide funding for the long-term future of Supporters Direct…should not be beyond the skill of the football authorities”. It is hugely disappointing, therefore, that the response from the football authorities shows no recognition for the need for long term funding or realistic assumptions about their fundraising potential.
  • The delay in convening the proposed Expert Group to address issues that creates barriers to supporter ownership. We welcome the football authorities’ commitment to working with Government to remove legal and bureaucratic hurdles to supporters obtaining ownership interests in their Clubs and to participate in a Government Expert Working Group. Supporters Direct submitted a proposed agenda for the Expert Group to the football authorities and Government in November. We are disappointed that at the time of writing there has been no response from Government on this.
  • The apparent lack of urgency from Government to ensure that the proposals will deliver on the Coalition pledge “to encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by their supporters.” The Select Committee report and the Government response led us to believe that this was (and remains) a genuine commitment. The football authorities’ apparent reluctance to fully embrace the spirit of the Select Committee’s recommendations is now putting this commitment to the test.
  • ·The proposals for increased supporter engagement are weak, vague requiring significant substantiation to understand exactly what they mean. Many of those who gave evidence during your inquiry highlighted the crucial role that supporters can and have played in the lives of their clubs. The success enjoyed by Swansea City in the Premier League-in part ownership by their supporters’ trust-stands as further proof that supporters have greater significance than as simple consumers, and have earned the right to a structured relationship with their clubs.

We would recommend Supporters Direct is called to give evidence when the CMS Select Committee convenes to consider the football authorities’ response.

We would urge the Committee to consider closely whether theirs, or Governments’, recommendations have been properly addressed by the football authorities’ proposals as they stand.

As outlined above, we believe there is a compelling argument to suggest that they have not. Another missed opportunity to reform our game will surely see the continuation of the current environment of unsustainable spending, unsustainable debt, and the continued marginalisation of football’s most important stakeholders-the supporters.

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