Football Governance: time for an independent commission

CEL speaking LDConf 2014
(click image for video)
Speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, I called for the establishment of an independent commission, representative of the whole game, to comprehensively review football’s governance to make it more effective, inclusive, and no longer subject to conflicting vested interests.
Moving an amendment to the party’s policy on football, I focused my fire particularly on the FA and the Premier League, drawing on recent experience of their failure to tackle discrimination at high levels in the game:
“So why is the English FA so incapable of addressing this kind of misconduct by leaders within football? It is because their governance is so fatally flawed that it no longer works.”
Of the Premier League, their “governance is so totally woeful, with no proper board structure, no independent oversight, no way to keep under control the man who uttered those vile sexist remarks”
The full text of my speech, which was shown live on BBC Parliament is:
“Gash”, “Big Titted Broads”, “Klunt”

This is the kind of atrocious sexist language that the Chief Executive of the Premier League used in emails with colleagues.

“You looked rather tanned”, “have you been down a coal mine?”

That is what the chairman of the English FA’s Referees Committee said to a black official at a conference in June.

“Darkie”

That is how the Director of Football at a Premiership side referred to one of his colleagues at their training ground.

And then we had the tirade of racist, sexist, homophobic, and antisemitic language used in texts by former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay.

Four instances of extreme discrimination by leaders in our national game.

Four examples showing the unreconstructed views still prevalent at the top level of football.

So what did the FA – the governing body and regulator of football in England – do to discipline these senior figures, and demonstrate that their conduct was unacceptable?

What did they do?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

They ducked, they dived, they used every excuse, and in each case, they refused to charge these powerful people.

And what happened when one of their independent inclusion advisers dared question the FA’s commitment to fighting discrimination at the top of the game?

They sacked him.

That’s right. The FA did nothing to tackle the institutionalised racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism amongst football’s leaders, but they dismissed the whistleblower who spoke out of his concern about their inaction.

And how do I know?

Because I am the adviser they removed from their inclusion board three weeks ago.

I am the one who addressed Greg Dyke and Heather Rabbatts over the course of nine months pleading for the FA to do more, to allow the inclusion board to lead, to advocate for equality.

I’m the one they ignored, until I was quoted in an interview with a national newspaper comparing failures in football to positive steps taken in other sports.

That’s when they sacked me.

So why is the English FA so incapable of addressing this kind of misconduct by leaders within football?

It is because their governance is so fatally flawed that it no longer works.

The FA is a mass of conflicted interests that are so busy fighting each other that they are unable to properly regulate the sport that is part of the lives of countless millions of people in these islands.

The money brokers of the Premier League want control.

Control so they can continue to dominate the game, bringing in billions of pounds to the top twenty clubs and then occasionally offering a few crumbs from their table to those in the Football League and the grassroots game.

And yet this is the Premier League whose governance itself is so totally woeful, with no proper board structure, no independent oversight, no way to keep under control the man who uttered those vile sexist remarks.

Desperately trying to balance the power of the Premiership are the County Football Associations – the traditional blazer wearing spokesmen for grassroots football. Wonderful well-meaning volunteers who do so much to keep the game going at local level, but who in many cases lack the experience or business savvy to counter the slick money men.

And where are the players and supporters in all of this; those without whom there would be no football?

Well they are relegated to having one seat each on the 120 member FA Council and none on the Board.

And what of women, for whom football is the fastest growing and biggest team sport? Well there are six of them on the FA Council – a whole five percent! There are less than a handful of minority ethnic faces, and there is one man who is openly gay.

That is the wonderfully diverse nature of English football’s leadership.

Riven by conflicting interests.

Totally unrepresentative of society or even the game it regulates.

Completely incapable of tackling discrimination at the top level or even selecting an England men’s team that can win against Costa Rica!

That Conference is why we have brought this amendment before you today.

It calls for a comprehensive independent review of football’s governance.

To provide our national game with strong, effective leadership, no longer tied to the conflicted interests that have constrained it for so long.

I hope I have demonstrated why it is necessary.

Edward Lord is Chair of the London FA Inclusion Advisory Group and a former member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board. He is speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference in a personal capacity as a party member and representative of its LGBT equality group. 

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