By Tony Attwood
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The Charity Commission – the UK organisation which regulates charities and makes sure that they abide by the law, has begun enquiries examining the way Professional Footballers’ Association Charity is managed. This is a “statutory inquiry” – the most serious type of intervention into the workings of a charity that there is.
The declared purpose of the PFAC is to advance the health and education of its members of the PFA as well as support them during periods of hardship.
The case began over a year ago and is centred on the issue of the relationship between the trade union, the Professional Footballers’ Association, and the charity that it appears to control 100%. A statement said that after extensive investigations, “the Commission continues to have serious concerns which have led to the opening of this inquiry.”
Among other things the inquiry is looking at whether the charity’s activities have been exclusively charitable and for the public benefit and the issue of conflicts of interest between the work of the charity and the work of the trade union.
What is interesting is that it seems that most of the work of the PFA is run as a charity, which gets the bulk of its cash (£24.75m a year according to its accounts) from the Premier League.
Its chief executive, Gordon Taylor, is well-known for having the highest salary of any trade union official in Britain, £2.02m in 2017-18. This is four times as much as the grants to players made by the charity.
In short, it appears (from reports I have read, and of course I make no allegation based on my own investigations) a huge chunk of the income of the charity goes to pay the chief executive.
In 2013 the Independent ran the story that Gordon Taylor had gambling debts of over £100,000 and a serious gambling habit. The following month the PFA denied this was true. The Guardian reported that “the PFA’s chief executive was accused of placing more than £4m on 2,000 bets.”
But this was not the first controversy. In 2008 Taylor said the union would support Marlon King, the Wigan player, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexually assaulting a 20-year-old student in December 2008 and causing actual bodily harm after Taylor punched her in the face in a bar.
10 years before that when Rachel Anderson was a fifa licensed football agent Taylor arranged that she should not be allowed into the PFA’s annual awards dinner because it was a private men-only event. Anderson took the PFA to court, and of course won. It was a flagrant and obvious breach of the law – excused by an attitude of “that doesn’t apply to us”.
This time however the Charity Commission appears to be ready to investigate the union from top to bottom after a review started last year under the offices of the Sports Resolutions organisation, appears to have made no progress.
Paul Elliott has now resigned as a trustee of the PFA because he has an individual voluntary arrangement with those to whom he owes money, and is this banned from being a trustee of a charity unless specifically agreed by the Charity Commission to hold such a post. That has never happened – but the PFA appointed him anyway.
Elliott is currently the chair of the Football Association’s inclusion advisory board, which advises on anti-discrimination and diversity practices within the FA.
Recently a number of high profile ex-players circulated a message which read, “You may have seen that Ben Purkiss (PFA chairman) has called for an independent review of the PFA. We are backing his call and would like to also call for a fair and democratic election of a new PFA chief executive. Throughout our careers we have never had a vote and this has to change. The PFA needs to be open and accessible to all. Every player should know when and how to vote, and the PFA must be run by people willing to be open, transparent and democratic. We call for Gordon Taylor to step down and allow the PFA to modernise and evolve.”
The PFA argued that Purkiss could not be chair himself as he was a non-contract player and the case became an argument over the technical meaning of the rules.
In November 2018 Taylor agreed to an independent review of the PFA following much criticism of a lack of support by the PFA for retired players. This in turn followed a report the previous month showing that a record number of footballers were seeking mental health support.
Looking from the outside it appears that the PFA has constantly blocked change as far as it could – from the issue of allowing women into its AGM to changing its chair. This time around might be different given that the Charity Commission has the power.
But we must also remember that when the FA was found not to be abiding by the rules in handing out money raised in the name of the Charity Shield, the FA simply re-named the competition the Community Shield and so by-passed the rules. Letters from Untold Arsenal to the FA asking for a breakdown of how the money raised by the Community Shield annual match has been spent, have gone unanswered.
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