Football: Task Force `will deliver fair deal' for fans

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S Football Task Force maintained yesterday that its final report, into the commercial side of the game, "will deliver a fair deal to supporters" on issues such as merchandise and ticket prices when published next month.

The statement came as a leaked document showed that the country's three main governing bodies - the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League - will not support an independent football regulator, Offoot, and will oppose the mandatory introduction of fans' representatives on club boards. The authorities will also oppose mandatory restrictions on ticket prices and oppose quotas on subsidised tickets for young, disabled, unemployed and OAP supporters.

The Football Task Force was set up soon after the Labour government came to power in 1997 and was given a remit to produce three reports (the first two dealt with disability and racism) on how to improve the modern game. The final publication, the Commercial Report, is due out in October and aims to address issues ranging from replica shirts and ticket prices to the involvement of Plcs in the game.

The FA, the Premier League and the Football League were among numerous bodies - including local authorities, supporters' associations and disabled groups - asked to submit opinions on a variety of commercial aspects of the game.

In the evidence they submitted to the Task Force, the three governing bodies rejected ticket price controls as "inappropriate", saying that clubs needed flexibility to allow for circumstances such as promotion, relegation and ground developments. They said that they "do not believe that the overall well-being of the game will be helped by new layers of regulation or bureaucracy" [ie, a regulator], and dismissed fans' calls for representation as "unacceptable."

The governing bodies' statements may not be welcomed by supporters, but they are not surprising. The idea of Offoot has been publicly rejected in the past and the authorities are unlikely to support any measures that would make them unpopular with clubs and let control slip from those who have traditionally been in charge.

"What we've said is `no' to statutory requirements [on tickets, quotas and supporters representatives on club boards]," Mike Lee, a Premier League spokesman, confirmed yesterday. "And we do not believe an outside regulator imposing mandatory restrictions on our members is in the game's best interests." He added, however, that criticism of the authorities' stance had been "very skewed, biased and slanted" and that they would all be prepared to work with the Task Force and all interested parties for the good of the clubs and their fans.

David Mellor, the Task Force chairman, said no final decisions had been made about what to include in the report and all viewpoints would be considered. "Our work continues," he said. "I remain confident our final report will deliver a fair deal to supporters."

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