A shiny new six-a-side astroturf pitch, eager schoolchildren being put through their paces, an inner-city setting, and the great and the good being interviewed by the great unwashed. All the ingredients were present in Southwark for a joint policy announcement by government and the football industry, including the inevitable playing fast-and-loose with the truth.
The 'new £102m' investment into grass roots facilities being trumpeted by the Sports Minister, Helen Grant, the FA, and Premier League was not new at all, it was just a re-branding of cash the three bodies provide every year. And, as ever with these cases, the headline figure was misleading, the investment is £36m a year, for three years, provided equally by all three bodies (who used to provide £60m a year).
It is badly needed cash. FA research discovered 84 per cent of respondents wanted more money invested in facilities, which they could have found out from just walking down to the nearest park. But it does not look very much set against the £1.8bn the Premier League clubs receive per year from television alone, or even the £77m paid to agents last year. They do, however, also spend £20m on various good causes, and pay more than £1bn to the Exchequer in taxes, not much of which finds it way back into sport. Sport England (the agency through which government contribute to this 'new' initiative) has been given a £2bn grant, but that is over five years and is 70 per cent funded by lottery income - leaving £70m per annum from Government, or £1 per citizen.
This is not much of an investment when obesity is costing the NHS millions and myriad studies show the value of exercise, be it children performing better at school or the many health benefits for all ages. The NHS budget is 108.9bn, a pair of floodlit six-a-side 3G pitches with changing rooms is £500,000.
Pressed on these issues Grant's response was to say: “This money is going to do an awful lot of good up and down the country, rather than picking and comparing we should be positive about what is happening. More money is going into sport now than ever before, more people are participating in sport than ever before, we are ambitious, we want more to be done, but it is more, not less.”
Grant had earlier tweeted, “Sport has power to change lives for the better” but while she appears motivated and genuine her post has been downgraded to a third-tier cabinet post since she replaced Hugh Robertson in the recent reshuffle. She also has responsibility for tourism, equalities and the Olympic legacy. Despite this demotion she insisted: “Sport is critically important. I will be a passionate advocate of it. I know what it can do for people.”
Both sides intimated the other could do more. Grant had seized upon the offer to pass the blame when she said she “could understand” why, as a questioner suggested 'people look at the Premier League's 5.5bn TV income [over three years] and wonder why they do not invest more'.
Scudamore, having insisted the Premier League are putting more cash into facilities and arguing out the league puts £168m into various good causes and youth development outside of their own clubs (not including parachute payments), added: “We do feel like we are doing work others [i.e., government] could be doing, of course I would like to see them do more, but government have their challenges too and our tax revenues pay for other things, like doctors and nurses.”
The 'new' aspect, incidentally, is a change of brand from Football Foundation to the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund (to publicise their input), and a change of focus into poorer, usually urban areas. It is a start, but more could, and should, be done, by all parties.