By Tony Attwood
It is being said in the corridors of power (to use CP Snow’s influential phrase – largely because my brain refuses to dream up an alternative before my first coffee of the day) that the government is thinking of imposing a levy on the Premier League’s radio and tv income and then distributing that money to grassroots football.
That is according to the minister for culture, media and sport John Whittingdale.
So what is wrong with that statement? After all Untold has constantly argued that massively more should be done for grassroots, and we have occasionally reported from the smaller grounds we’ve been to when Arsenal is not playing.
On the face of it, the ploy might sound reasonable, which probably explains why, when the minister’s speech writers run out of ideas (which given the mess grass roots sport is in in England is about every 2.7 seconds) they keep hammering this one. Sports minister, Tracey Crouch, used much the same speech to talk about how she was “genuinely appalled” by the fact that the Premier League distributes very little to grassroots.
But just as the media can hide real issues to cover their own tracks and make life easy for themselves (see Fear and Loathing for example) so can governments. Or indeed so do governments. All the time.
1: This government and the previous Coalition is the one that has destroyed the grassroots.
The Conservatives (for five years with the backing of the now decimated Liberal Democat Party and now let loose on their own) have cut, cut and done nothing but cut, the money available to local authorities – the bodies in England which are charged with improving recreation facilities. Over the last four years this has been running at a rate of about £100m a year in cuts on sport and leisure.
In simple terms, in order to maintain its disastrous fiscal policy the government is casting around for someone, anyone, with an income and then saying, “hey we will take it from you.” The question is, “should one trust a bureaucratic body that had the money, and then removes it, and sneaks around looking for some other source of income?” Probably not.
2: Taxing company income not profit is dubious.
The UK and international TV rights deals for 2016-19 will probably reach £8bn. Some of it is used to rebuild the crumbling old stadia of the 1980s, a lot of it goes on transfers and wages, and only recently has much of it ended up as profit. That could reverse again very quickly, and indeed the world’s fascination with the Premier League could decline very quickly – especially if anyone ever unfortunately let slip that the whole thing is run by a highly secretive behind-the-scenes organisation that issues utterly insane statistics as facts and which manipulates issues and rules for its own ends. (I speak of course of the dreaded PGMO). (Ooops, maybe I just let the bag out of the cat. Or something).
In short, put in a levy on income, people start doing wonderful things with the money, and then the income collapses because of a scandal or just lack of interest, and suddenly all these projects are stuck.
Interestingly, in another attempt to cover up the shortage of funds its own policy has just created the government has just imposed an additional 8% tax on banks. And while people like me might welcome a tax of 200% on banks, it is interesting that this tax on banks is indeed on profit, not on turnover. But with football they want it on turnover.
3: It is the FA’s business
The FA is the body charged with looking after grassroots football. Which raises two concerns. One is that if the government actually ever did raise the money, it might give it to the FA, who would probably spend most of it on another round of getting chummy with Fifa and blowing it all on watches, handbags and the like in once more running a futile bid to get a contract from a bunch of unmitigated crooks. Oh yes, and they’d also spend it in part on paying off their own debts for the utterly unnecessary Wembley Stadium, which still hangs like a financial millstone. (Question: is there an alternative word for millstone? “It hung like a banker around his neck.” Yep that works for me.)
Of course the fact that after Sport England (a government body) gave money to the FA to boost its community programme, and was then forced to take the money back because of the gross incompetence of the FA, doesn’t help us believe that the FA could handle the proverbial in the alcohol making factory.
Indeed given that fiasco Sport England withdrew the money from the FA and set up its own City of Football Project that doesn’t give me much faith either.
4: It is not as if the Premier League is not taxed already.
As I pointed out at the end of last month the Premier League distributes almost 20% of its overall income to areas outside the Premier League. The clubs additionally give 20% of their profits to the state in corporation tax – currently around £37,000,000 a year. Additionally the clubs collect another £577,000,000 in VAT from fans and gives that to the government (and are fined if they get any of their sums wrong or don’t pay up on time). Another £15,000,000 is voluntarily given to grassroots funding.
So in the light of this what do we make of Whittingdal’es statement when he said,
“The real challenge is to get right down into the grassroots. Every MP will have local clubs who are struggling, and in some cases failing, to survive, and yet there is this vast amount of money at the top of the game.”
to me it seems just like yet another cover up for a disastrous government policy of removing money from local authorities.
Richard Scudamore has said the Premier League will put £1bn of the income between 2016-19 outside the league, although that of course means giving money to relegated clubs most of the time.
And my annoyance at the government’s policy should not be taken to mean that I support the Premier League in all it does. It’s own appalling failure to introduce its own promised Financial Fair Play rules says about as much as needs to be said concerning its ability to handle the money and power. Or rather power and money.
Threatening the Premier League with taxation and the FA with an outside imposition of sanity goes on all the time, but there are still huge problems which no one is dealing with.
Of course we need a vibrant and growing grassroots football programme, but what we actually have is a decline in grassroots football. And that leads me to a bold prediction!
If the government takes money from the Premier League and gives it to grassroots football it will then, within a year, cut its own funding of local authorities cultural and sporting activities by the same amount or more, leaving the local clubs and leagues even worse off than they were when this round of insanity started.
Perfidious seems a good word to use when contemplating the work of John Whittingdale and Tracey Crouch.
Yep, that works for me.
Anniversaries – all today’s anniversaries on the home page
- 11 September 1893. The first ever league win. Woolwich Arsenal 4 Walsall TS 0; John Heath scored the first ever Arsenal hat-trick in the Football League.
- 11 September 2010: Arsenal continue their perfect home form beating Bolton 4-1 and making it 10 goals in two home games. Koscielny, Chamakh, Song, Vela scored.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal