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Birkbeck panel calls for change in FA football governance

Mon 19th Sep 2011 | Football Governance

The Sport Business Centre at Birkbeck, University of London, hosted a live panel debate on ‘The Future of the Governance of English Football’, providing crucial insights and expert views on how the business of football should be managed following the final report on the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee enquiry into the governance of English football in July.

Chaired by Sean Hamil, Director of Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, panellists included Damian Collins MP, and Therese Coffey MP, both of who served on the DCMS Committee; Erik Samuelson, CEO, AFC Wimbledon; and Danny Davis, a Partner in law firm Mishcon de Reya’s insolvency practice.

Joined by 60 guests, the panellists discussed the recommendations of the DCMS report which the Government is due to respond to by the end of the month.

Damian Collins began by framing his comments in the context of why Parliament should be involved in football governance. He reflected on the Coalition’s agreement on the high level of public interest in the game and the need for governance that will promote sustainability.

He stated that: “No change in governance and Football Association (FA) reform is not an option,” adding, “It is clear to us that the FA does not have control of football in this country. The Board of the FA has become the war room where competing factions play out their frustrations.”

Therese Coffey reminded the audience that the Committee’s recommendations are designed to focus the FA on becoming the most effective football governing body in the world. She said that governance improvements should be straightforward involving changes to the FA Board, the committees and the council underneath.

She said: “In terms of timescales we anticipate that there is a year to 18 months for substantial change to occur before the start of the 2013 season.” She made it clear that if the football industry had not made sufficient progress towards full implementation of those changes, legislation would be enacted.

Eric Samuelson welcomed the Report and its series of recommendations and, in agreement with the rest of the panel, pulled out the key issues of football licensing and the football creditors rule as two areas that needed particular attention.

He commented: “We believe the football creditors rule is a bad one. We would like to see clubs relegated if they don’t pay their creditors.” He went on to say that football clubs should be required to publish their accounts in a bid for greater transparency in financial issues. He also welcomed legislation if the required changes were not met voluntarily.

Danny Davis called for clubs to submit to an annual audit as a minimum requirement. He suggested that the granting of a football licence be contingent on providing financial data that included accounts and an annual business plan. With regard to the Fit and Proper Persons Test, he pointed out that the 2006 Companies Act makes adequate provision for the fitness of a company director in its 10,000 pages. His view was that the test as it stands only pays lip service to its objective.

The panel chairman, Sean Hamil wrapped up proceedings by asking for recommendations for countries looking to the UK for examples of best practice in football governance. Eric Samuelson recommended involving supporters, a notion that was backed up by Danny Davis who said that the best advice he could give would be to manage the expectation of customers -- the fans, many of whom feel disenfranchised in the UK because they are taken for granted. Therese Coffey echoed an earlier theme of investment in grass roots while Damien Collins urged caution that more commercial imperatives in the game encourage financial risk taking that sometimes clubs cannot afford to undertake.

Commenting on the event, Sean Hamil said: “It is vital that we are able to debate these issues;  at Birkbeck we are privileged to convene experts at this level to ensure that there is a robust and rigorous examination of the business practices in football that affect all of the stakeholders in the game.”

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