Thursday, 29 September 2016

My LT column - Government dithering on football governance issues

As Chair of DCMS PLP committee there have been a number of issues I have raised. Gambling, Lord Leveson report, BBC and UK public sector broadcasting including opposing the privatisation of Channel 4.

Football governance is another one of those issues that both the last Tory-Liberal Government and the current Tory government are failing to take action on.

Despite a recent Government report, football fans continue to be prevented from getting involved in their clubs.

The report, which came out in January, called for new opportunities for Supporter Trusts to bid to own their clubs in an insolvency situation; clubs to meet with a representative group of supporters at least twice a year; and an additional £1 million funding from the PL for supporter groups.

Yet for many fans across the country, these recommendations will be too little, too late.

They don’t go far enough to give supporters the opportunity to take a meaningful stake in clubs which had not collapsed financially; nor do they properly give fans the chance to address wider governance issues. Indeed, Manchester United Supporters Trust has decried the report as containing little practical help to assist fans building a stake in the absence of insolvency.

Coventry fans continue to be frustrated with Sisu, their hedge fund owners, and 15,000 supporters have signed a petition in the past week calling for Sisu to sell up. This overwhelming hostility to Sisu is unsurprising, given the owners’ appalling behaviour regarding the club’s ground.

Pompey fans continue to grapple with their own club’sproblems, after the club was sold between Middle Eastern owners without any concern about supporters’ opinions. Unusually, the Pompey Supporters’ Trust was forced to assume control of the club in 2013, after it was let down by these cavalier owners.

And closer to home, Rovers fans continue to be upset with Indian owners Venky’s, who have shown a complete disregard for the long-term health of the club, with persistent financial mismanagement and a disregard for PL rules. In March, the club’s financial results revealed debts of £104.2 million.

By contrast, Accrington Stanley is doing relatively well, due to its success in engaging with the local community and the owner’s understanding of the club’s unique history and character.

We now need fundamental changes to reform foreign ownership and properly increase fan involvement.

These changes must extend to the FA too. Its fear of owners comes at the expense of fans and goes against the purpose of its PL’s fit and proper persons test. It remains a cosy old-boys club, more interested in serving itself than the people who are the true lifeblood of football: its supporters.

Labour’s 2015 manifesto committed to transforming football ownership. And the previous shadow sports minister, Clive Efford, condemned the report for failing to go as far as Labour’s proposals did for greater sustainable fan ownership.

I’ll be working hard with local fans in Blackburn to ensure its owners clean up their act. But in the meantime, the Government and FA must do more to ensure the issue of fan involvement is addressed.