The Football Association is at risk of losing millions of grass roots funding after a group of MPs challenged the governing body’s commitment to progress.
Last October, sports minister Tracey Crouch gave the governing body six months to take meaningful steps to revamp its board and council but patience has worn thin and the FA now risks losing £30million of grassroots money from funding agency Sport England.
The debate will take place on Thursday, February 9, the Culture, Media and Sport committee announced, with a motion of “no confidence” in the FA’s ability to reform itself.
In an announcement from the CMS committee, its chairman Damian Collins said: “The current minister for sport told the committee that the FA had been given six months from publication of the Government’s guidance in October 2016 to demonstrate that it was willing to improve governance, otherwise public money would be withdrawn from the FA and distributed to football through other means.
“We do not believe the FA will comply voluntarily: it can survive easily without the Government’s contribution of money to grassroots sport, and there are powerful vested interests that refuse to accept the right of all those involved in football to play a role in the governance of the sport.
“We are therefore preparing a draft bill to bring the structure of the FA, especially its board and council, more into line with modern company practice and the Government’s guidelines for sports bodies.”
Under the Coalition Government, the CMS committee published two reports calling for greater representation at the FA for fans and the grassroots game, as well as more diversity in positions of authority.
It also wanted to dilute the power of the English Football League and Premier League.
But despite calls for action dating back more than a decade, little has yet been done.
In a statement, an FA spokesperson said: “We are aware of the discussions next week around governance. The Government announced a code for governance for sports governing bodies last year and we are working to their timeline for implementation later in the year.
“Football like all sports is following due process and we remain committed to working with the Government towards compliance with the code.”
Last autumn, the Government published new guidance on best practice for sports governance, with a clear warning public funding would be withheld from national governing bodies that fail to meet the standards or at least make significant steps in the right direction.
Following stinging criticism from three former chairmen and two senior executives in December, new FA chairman Greg Clarke said plans were in motion to expand the board from 12 to 14 with two new women, taking the female representation to three – still short of the Government’s minimum target of 30 per cent.
The thornier issue of what to do about the FA Council, however, remains unresolved.
The nominal parliament of football, the 120-strong council, is seen by some as a conservative and out-of-touch talking shop, stuffed with what the five FA critics called “elderly white men” from county FAs, armed services and public schools.
Senior figures at the FA acknowledge that the council needs to be overhauled but say its importance is often exaggerated. They also point out that the governing body has made huge strides recently in promoting women’s football, encouraging more disabled people to try the game and improving grassroots facilities.
It should also be pointed out that overt Government interference will not go down well with football’s world governing body FIFA, which fiercely guards football’s right to govern itself.