MPs Threaten Football Authorities: Reform or Face Legislation

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By Ewan Palmer | January 29, 2013 9:57 PM EST

Football Association chairman David Bernstein admitted progress to impose the reforms have been "slower than it might have been" (Reuters)

The football authorities have been given an ultimatum to impose sweeping governance reforms within the next 12 months, or face legislation.

The Culture, Media and Sport committee has criticised the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League for their "very disappointing" response to the proposals it first put forward in July 2011.

In a new report, the committee has warned the government will be forced to consider legislation if the FA does not enforce the reforms, which hinge upon rules to prevent financial risk-taking, by January 2014.

Specifically, the committee suggested the FA should introduce a financial licensing system, and not leave it to the Premier League and Football League. Under the football governance blueprint, clubs which do not adhere to the financial fair play rules would be fined and full details of each club's ownership would be disclosed.

Other recommendations propounded by the committee include reducing the size of the FA board, ensuring greater diversity and inviting greater representation from fans. As it stands, two-thirds of the FA council are aged 64 or over and the majority have served for more than 20 years.

Sports minister Hugh Robertson warned the football authorities that legislation is not an empty threat. He said: "We welcome the report from the select committee which shows the will there is across Parliament for football to modernise and change for the better.

"We have been clear that we want the football authorities to carry out the reforms they promised... most notably around improved governance and diverse representation at the FA, the development of a licensing system and greater financial transparency.

"If football does not deliver then we will look at bringing forward legislation."

John Whittingdale, chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: "While some progress has been achieved, much greater reform in football is needed to make the game inclusive, sustainable and driven from the grass roots, where it should be. The proposals for reform so far simply don't address the fundamental problems: the licensing model, the way supporters are engaged at club level and the membership of the Main Board, which is not fully representative or able to balance interests adequately.

"In addition, the financial proposals were hugely disappointing: the financial risk-taking by clubs is a threat to the sustainability of football as a family and community orientated game, which it should be. This is a central issue which must be addressed and real solutions - and the will to make the necessary changes - have been glaringly absent from the proposals so far.

"We recommend that the DCMS make it clear to the football authorities that further progress on these issues is expected within twelve months. If football cannot reform itself, the Government should introduce legislation as soon as practically possible."

David Bernstein, the FA chairman, has said progress has already been made to diversify the council, including adding its first ever woman to the board in Heather Rabbatts - but admitted progress is "slower than it might have been".

In a joint statement, the FA, Premier League and Football League insisted the necessary reforms would be implemented: They said: "The football authorities continue to work towards the final approval and implementation of the governance reform proposals as outlined in February 2012.

"Significant headway has already been made on many of these proposed reforms, not least on sustainability and transparency. The remaining reform proposals are the subject of consultation within the game and we are confident that the necessary progress will be made."

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