By Tony Attwood
In the Guardian today you’ll find this comment:
The British public has “run out of patience” with English football’s failure to reform itself, the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, has said, as he confirmed legislation for an independent regulator would be in place before the next general election.
Elsewhere in the same newspaper the point is made that “The independent regulator’s primary role will be to maintain financial stability within the English game. It will have oversight of club finances and will have information-gathering, investigation and enforcement powers. Rules recently announced by Uefa, which would limit clubs in European competition to spending no more than 70% of revenues on player costs, are likely to be implemented across the English game.
In the Telegraph it is suggested that the government is “endorsing the recommendation that the Premier League should increase its financial support across the lower leagues, to protect smaller but no less valuable clubs. The clock is ticking and we reserve the right to empower the regulator with backstop powers should a solution not be realised.”
Oh yes, and there will be a way of “assessing owners’ suitability to run clubs. A new test for all club owners will be applied not only when an individual buys a club but thereafter.”
And later, “There is also a proposal for greater due diligence on the source of an owner’s money at the point of buying a club,” and the point that “Many of the new measures are already standard in other industries so Monday’s announcement will come with a degree of implied criticism for English football’s leadership.”
Behind all this is the notion that the problem is of “unsustainable business practices” in the game, and that is undoubtedly true.
But what you won’t find anywhere is any criticism of the FA as an institution, nor come to that Fifa, nor the Court of Arbitration in Sport. Nor of course the media. Nor any mention of better protecting children – a new case in relation to which is currently bubbling under the surface (although I can’t give details as court hearings are pending).
So nothing about holding the FA to account although it was the FA that oversaw the utter disaster of the Euros final at Wembley where large numbers of people entered the ground illegally, and large numbers of others were injured. And the FA that was found guilty of not keeping proper records by the Charity Commission. Nor of the Football League as an institution which sees so many of its members go to the wall. Nor of the way agents work. Nor of the increasing dependence of football on gambling, which has taken on a new dimension of its own of late.
There are so many articles on this site concerning the problems that financing football through gambling has caused that it’s impossible to cite just one as a reference but you could go back 10 years and see Southampton again cited in illegal gambling incident, but who on earth can investigate? It is not as if we have only just picked up on the problem.
But there will be an enquiry into football, and we can be sure that as a result of it nothing will be done about PGMO, even though the discontent with that operation is growing. Even newspapers that previously would never ever dream of criticising a referee now do it, as for example, in an article in the Telegraph it is stated, “Everton coach Lampard said referee Stuart Attwell should have awarded his side a penalty, and suggested a Joël Matip challenge on Anthony Gordon would have been punished had Mohamed Salah been on the receiving end in front of the home fans.”
That feeling of imbalance is now widespread, and growing, as far as I can see. It is not that I am saying PGMO referees are simply not up to the job, although some may be, but rather that they run themselves as a cosy cartel unaccountable to anyone and that cannot be right.
And of course, there is the problem that the issue is not just an English one. Consider what is happening in Spain where the Telegraph reports that the Spanish equivalent of the Community Shield was sold to Saudi Arabia and expanded into a four or six club competition.
And why do Saudi Arabia cherish this? Because it is part of their sportswashing programme, suggesting that all those human rights abuses don’t matter because hey, they pay for Spanish football to the tune of around €30 million a year.
And that deal isn’t even there to help the Spanish League survive. It is part of a bailout plan for Barcelona.
The great problem is that this supposed reform of football will only tinker with bits and pieces of an industry that for many years was at the heart of child sex abuse cases. Of course some of those individuals were taken to court. But none of the institutions that allowed this to happen, and refused to investigate for decades have ever been held to account.
And these “reforms” will allow that state of affairs to continue.
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