By Tony Attwood
In the past week we have learned that the FA, when running England’s bid for the world cup, laid on a banquet. The cost of the dinner was around £35,000. This was part of the £25m that the FA spent on the bid, which ultimately got two votes – one of which was England’s, the other Australia and it seems that the man investigating corruption within the bidding process that led to Russian and Qatar getting the finals, is now investigating England.
Now, I have endlessly complained that the FA’s £25m should have been spent not on all the razamatz of taking a Royal Prince, a David Beckham and a Prime Minister around the place pushing England. No one wanted England to have the World Cup, that was clear, so there was no point. That money should have been spent on grassroots football.
Again if you read regularly you might remember that Drew Emma and I travelled around non-league and lower-league grounds last season, going to places as far and wide as Lancing, Corby, Stamford, Cambridge, Northampton…
It is something I would urge everyone to do – go and see football locally, because without those local clubs, we could have no Arsenal.
After this we had the shambles of the cutting of FA money by Sport England, because the FA was not doing enough for grassroots football. The FA said they couldn’t do more because the weather was so bad – although the period that Sport England examined was before last year’s bad weather set in. But it was a pointless argument. The FA spend millions paying interest on the loans for the building of Wembley, and spent that £25m bidding for the world cup.
Now sports minister in England Helen Grant has warned the FA that it must do more about mass participation in football. The minister also wants more women in the boardroom tables.
Helen Grant also told the Premier League to do more to support the women’s game and said she would set up an “expert group” to promote the interests of fans.
At the heart of all this is the need for more and more artificial 3G pitches which are available for community use – something that would encourage the creation of teams. But the FA doesn’t get out of it that easy because the FA has to do more to encourage participation.
Sport England’s report in March this year showed a continuing decline in the number of people playing football. That was when they chopped £1.6m from the FA’s public funding. That is about 50,000 banquets or 15% of a world cup bid.
In the last seven years £180m has been invested in grassroots facilities by the Football Foundation – which is funded jointly by the Premier League, FA and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. £100m is set to be given over the next three years. This is good, but it is still nothing like enough, because as with so many areas of British society we have let matters slip very badly. Besides this is peanuts compared to the £5.5bn in TV income that the Premier League gets over three years.
We all need this investment in new pitches. We need people playing football no matter how bad they are at it, because we can’t have a society in which people continue to become more and more grossly overweight.
Grant wants the FA to be more creative and flexible. I would add, that it already is in terms of wasting money on WC bids, so it just needs to transfer that ability into something matters.
“I want many more of these pitches up and down the country with good changing rooms,” she said. “They’re wonderful in terms of being able to play in most weathers, they’re great for community sport and they’re great for talent development.”
The problem is the minister, like so many before her, refuses to take on the FA and other antiquated aspects of football. She talks of the need for an “expert panel” made up of members of fan groups, leagues, governing bodies and the like. What of course is never included in the list are people like those at Untold who find every excuse to bring the shame of the decline into grassroots football onto this agenda. We’re here beefing away about the issue regularly, but never with an acknowledgement that ourselves, and many other blogs are trying our best to get the story out there.
The minister is also concerned by the low level of women in England playing sport. If you have ever been to see and Women’s game involving Arsenal you will know that the numbers there are tiny. We got a decent number at the Cup Final at Milton Keynes, but it ought to have been more.
The Minister is now in São Paulo to watch the men play in the competition that has sucked up so much of the money that could have gone into grassroots football. With that £25m we could have started to catch up with what much of Europe has.
I hope she succeeds… but she is going to have to act very strongly to get the FA sorted, and stop all this World Cup bidding nonsense, and blaming non-existent bad weather.
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