[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)
Yes, I share many of those concerns. I suspect, I am afraid, that at some level, even within our own professional game, there are similar problems.
Other hon. Members want to speak, but I hope that I have a few moments to say a little about sporting sanctions, which have caused considerable angst within the footballing community. The Football League pioneered the use of sporting sanctions, with a mandatory 10-point penalty applied to any club that enters administration. I strongly support the sanction, because it protects the integrity of the competitions by ensuring that clubs do not gain a competitive advantage, not just by going through insolvency, but through overspending in the years before that.
I understand why many fans are upset by the sanctions, particularly fans of clubs such as Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle, which have dropped rapidly through the divisions as a result of not just a 10-point penalty, but often more punitive penalties. In a sense, the new owners and loyal, much put-upon supporters find themselves left to pick up the pieces, although they are not responsible for many of those past misdemeanours.
We have not discussed agents’ fees to any great degree today, and there is also the issue of publication. The abolition of the minimum wage 51 years ago and the Bosman ruling, fundamentally, in 1995 have so massively tilted the power away from clubs to the players. It has gone from one terrible extreme of indentured play to the other, where the players have the whip hand. They have so much power that their agents can now extort
huge fees. Although it is easy for the footballing fraternity —the FA, the premier league and even the Football League—to accuse agents of being at the core of all these problems, they often have a symbiotic relationship with agents, some of whom may be on their side, as Graham Jones said specifically in relation to Blackburn Rovers, but that applies within many other clubs as well.
I am keenly aware that other hon. Members want to speak. Payments to HMRC have already been discussed by other hon. Members. On FA governance, as we know, the Football Association was created in an Olympian, Victorian age. In fairness to Oxford university, it won the FA cup a few times in the 1880s, which is probably why it still has representation to this day, but clearly this is not a sensible body to go forward as a 21st-century model for running our national game.
Given the commercial explosion over the past couple of decades following the emergence of the Premier League, which I have mentioned, one has to wonder how the FA in its current form can have any influence. In many ways, the Premier League has, again, been complicit in this and has colluded and been happy to allow the FA to take quite a lot of flack for elements of the governance concerns that we have addressed today.
The FA will need to change its culture to understand that it alone is there to enforce the rules and policy agreed by the whole game. The overall direction of football in this country should now have significant input from the Premier League and the Football League—not as a takeover, but as a partnership. Just think how much more successful even a relatively traditional FA could be with more input from the acknowledged day-to-day leaders in the leading tiers of global club football. A change in the culture will see the FA participate alongside the rest of the football family in creating policy with more of a focus on oversight, which is close to all our hearts.
Hon. Members have mentioned having more independent directors. Such directors would have an important role in examining the game’s policies at a board level. More power should be handed to them and to expert executives who will initiate the policies.
The Government are keen to avoid having an independent regulator for our domestic national game. Football must accept that, if many of these proposals are not acted upon, working together with footballing organisations, an independent regulator may be a sanction. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. This subject has probably been a headache for him, knowing that he is, in truth, much more of a professed player of cricket and rugby—more than just a fan—but I suspect that football takes up a huge amount of his time.
This report will play an important role as a stepping-stone to ensuring that the national game, which all hon. Members have close to our hearts, will thrive in the years to come.