FA ordered to reform and confront power of Premier League

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The Independent Online

The phone-hacking scandal continues to provoke unexpected consequences.

One of the more tangential may be a curtailment of the power of the Premier League and a revival of the Football Association. Yesterday the Department of Culture, Media and Sport released the conclusions of its select committee inquiry into football governance and that was effectively what they called for.

When the hearings began it was not considered likely to be particularly significant, whatever the conclusions. Inquiries into football usually garner a day of headlines, and are then left on the shelf to gather dust. There was little reason to believe this one would be different.

Then came "Hackgate", with the DCMS select committee in the vanguard, even summonsing and interrogating the Murdochs. The committee discovered their own power, and there was a very palpable sense, as the press conference to launch the report moved from discussing the Glazers to the Murdochs, that they enjoy exercising it. If News Corp can be brought to heel, why not the Premier League? Thus it did not seem such an idle threat when John Whittingdale MP, the committee chairman, suggested that if football failed to reform itself by negotiation the game's authorities could be compelled to do so by legislation.

The main thrust of the report is two-fold. The Football Association must restructure its decision-making, ending the stasis inherent in the terminally conflicted FA Board, broadening the range of interests represented in the FA Council, and slashing the spiderweb of FA committees. Once this is done the FA should be in a position to administer a licensing system for all professional clubs, backed by a "rigorous" Fit and Proper Test for owners. This would reduce club mismanagement, financial and otherwise.

The committee also recommended that the notorious Football Creditors Rule should be axed, there should be more backing, financial and legislative, for supporters' trusts, more income directed to the grassroots, including coaching and youth development

The Premier League yesterday gave a careful and completely non-committal response, but are sure to be dead against many proposals. They will argue their own rules and regulations – beefed up after the Portsmouth fiasco in 2009-10 – are now strong enough to prevent clubs going into administration, though newly-relegated Birmingham's current problems suggest there may be issues still to address.

They feel their clubs are already licensed via Uefa, whose system they oversee and the FA sign off, and they already divert significant sums to the Football League and grassroots. The FA, many of whose staff will enthusiastically welcome the report, also asked for time to consider their response.

Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport, who described football as "the worst governed sport in the UK", which suggests he has not looked closely at rugby or tennis, will now review the report on behalf of the government. He did say: "It's clear that no change in the areas of governance, financial regulation, transparency and the involvement of supporters is not an option."

Some measures, such as the abolition of the Football Creditors Rule, currently being challenged in the court by the taxman, could happen by the end of the year. Progress elsewhere will be slower with some in football hoping changes in government personnel, or, less probably, success for England at Euro 2012, results in the issue slipping down the agenda.

However, if the political will is there, this could be as significant as the Taylor Report two decades ago. Set up in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 it changed the game, reversing decades of decline and ushering in a new era.

FA reform

In theory the FA Board manages the organisation and takes strategic decisions. In practice it is hopelessly conflicted between the professional game and the national game (grassroots). There are 12 members, three Premier League, two Football League, five county FAs, plus the FA chairman and general secretary. The report recommends it is recast and slimmed to 10 members.

Finance

All clubs should be licensed by the FA. Owners should pass a rigorous Fit and Proper Person's Test, run by the FA, and ownership should be transparent. The current 50:50 split in FA revenue between Professional and National Games should be altered in favour of the latter. The size of parachute payments to relegated clubs should be reduced.

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