Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. Football governance has been debated in Parliament and has been the subject of Parliamentary and Government reports over the last 10 years. What all those reports have in common is a consensus that there needs to be more independent regulation and supervision of what happens within football, to stop bad things happening.

Many financial failures could have been resolved before they happened if there had been proper independent scrutiny of the finances of the clubs. Issues around ownership could be resolved if there were a fit-and-proper person test that could be administered against people when they buy clubs or during their management of those clubs. Time and again, we have seen that no such effective operation exists and that the football leagues simply do not have the resources to enforce that. Too often, when a club gets into difficulties, fans speak up, but find the football authorities can do nothing to help and, when they turn to Parliament, we do not have any legislative power to intervene.

If the fan-led review, the latest football governance review, is to be meaningful in its outcome, it needs to recommend an independent regulatory body that can oversee the financial management of clubs, have the power to intervene when things go wrong, see accounts to ensure clubs are spending within the limits of their rules and not overspending, and ensure that clubs are being run in a sustainable way, so that they are there for the future. These are the basic common failings. Why do they exist? Because football does not have an effective governing body in this country. It is run by a combination of vested interests that do not always agree with each other and at league level it is run by a rule book that is set and voted on by the chairs of the clubs themselves. Historically, they have not been interested in independent scrutiny of what they do.

Football clubs are unlike any other business. They deserve to be run in a sustainable way. The community should expect that they will be there for future generations to enjoy. They are cultural assets, really. Yes, they can be run in a commercial way and they can be competitive, but they have to be run in a sustainable way as well.

In other industries, such as broadcasting, we have regulators in place with certain special powers that mean they can intervene and even withdraw the licence to broadcast, should they need to. Such a regulator in this country for football would similarly need a golden share. I believe it should be independent of all the existing football bodies, including the FA, have a strict and limited remit regarding the financial performance and governance of clubs, and have very clear powers to intervene and even to put clubs into a form of sporting administration if things go wrong.

The review should also consider other aspects of commercial pressure in football that can have a detrimental impact, particularly the relationship between agents, clubs and players, where agents can end up representing all three parties in a transaction. It is difficult to break that model when clubs want to sign players. These are other financial issues that a regulator could look at. This is a reform that has been long needed to make football sustainable.