Sports politics: Banks floats idea of football regulator

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The Independent Online
THE sports minister, Tony Banks, yesterday floated the idea of a new football regulator to guard fans from exploitation by clubs. He told a committee of MPs that football was not like other products, in that fans could not switch clubs in search of lower prices.

Fresh from celebrating Chelsea's European Cup-Winners' Cup victory in Stockholm, Banks told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee he had just paid pounds 1,250 for a season ticket to Stamford Bridge next season.

It was, he said, a lot of money. Put to him that a ticket for Watford would cost less, he said he would still support Chelsea, even if he had won the election he fought unsuccessfully in 1979 to become Watford MP.

"Football isn't just another product," he said. "You can't just say it's like a car or a refrigerator where you just switch brands. You can't do that with football, so football has a responsibility."

Asked what could be done to ensure fans got value for money in terms of ticket prices, merchandising and broadcasting of matches, he said: "There are ways this could be done.

"If we recognise football is not like any normal product, because it isn't just something we can switch in and out of, we could introduce a regulator. It's not government policy but it's a possibility.

"We interfere in the market for public utilities, because we recognise their role in the economy is different from other products. You can't survive without electricity and water so you can't let free market forces rip in this area. I suspect you could survive without football though some people would question that."

Banks said the football Task Force would also be considering the question of ticket prices and merchandising.

"It will be a very difficult area, but the mere fact that we can't solve all the problems to everyone's satisfaction isn't an excuse for not looking at the problems. I feel that we as politicians can assist the organisers of sports to recognise there is a long-term interest."

He referred to allegations that two Newcastle United directors had boasted of replica kits costing the club pounds 5 that could be sold to fans for pounds 50.

Banks said: "If that sort of level of exploitation is taking place, I think politicians, whether we like it or not, will be forced to intervene, because that's gross exploitation.

"We owe it to the people we represent to at least make sure they are not exploited in such an appalling way."

After the hearing, Banks stressed to reporters that, on the issue of the regulator, he had been expressing just a personal opinion in reply to an MP's question, and he conceded there could be practical problems with the idea.

The sports minister also said he would like a return of the annual England- Scotland home internationals, which stopped largely because of hooliganism.

"Now we have so improved our stadiums and safety regimes in this country and Scotland, I think the time is now right for the oldest international fixture in the world to be restored."

Banks also said he thought 2012 might be an appropriate year for London to host the Olympic Games, although he said bidding would be a decision for the British Olympic Committee.