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Sport: Governance — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 4th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Labour 2:54 pm, 4th December 2014

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. His introduction of the words “lex sportiva” is a major insight into some of our current problems and, at the risk of embarrassing him, I express my complete support for everything that he has said. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Brady. I think that Karren will probably find, after she made her maiden speech, that this is a much more tolerant environment then any that she has met in football.

Football is not the only sport with a poor governance standard. The DCMS report was scathing and it was right to be. The IOC and Salt Lake City spring to mind, with doping in many sports. Often it has taken the world-class sponsors, which no longer accept that their brands should be associated with criminality, to intervene and sometimes force change.

All sports are expected to have good governance and regulatory underpinning; it underpins fairness, competition and real transparency. This has always been essential. Fair betting, competitive integrity, child protection and ensuring competition between athletes rather than the chemistry labs that sometimes stand behind them have always been in the regulation of sport. When it fails, we are angry because sport provides us with the context for many of our values. We can because we care about those strong values—that is the basis—yet so often we fail.

I had the honour of being the first independent chairman of the Football Association in almost 150 years, a post flowing from the report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the decades of governance failure in that organisation. I have discussed this with David Bernstein, who was the second independent chairman and, in my judgment, a quite exceptional one. These are my words, of course, but I believe that he and I are on the same page, based on the experience that, unusually, we have come to share.

The FA’s council is huge and unwieldy. It is nothing like our country or even like football. It is elderly, male and almost entirely white. Its labyrinthine committees mostly impede change if they humanly can. Its board is unrepresentative and dominated by vested interests. The Premier League is of course a great commercial success in many ways, but board decisions in the FA are largely the decisions of the Premier League. The conflict of interest there lies in the overwhelming economic power and the positions that it occupies in the board structure. The necessary strategic oversight to build a better England team or help the 5.5 million local players is not there, and it is designed not to be.

The board is not independent or transparent because, from the start, it was designed to be none of those things. None of whatever we regard as important—the rights of fans, levels of debt or fit and proper persons, so woefully neglected at Portsmouth and Leeds—is addressed by the Football Association. Noble Lords may be thinking, “Surely the Burns report dealt with just this”, and quite right, it did. However, almost none of the report has been actioned. I was repeatedly told that there was no appetite to action it. Goodness knows how hard David Bernstein laboured to do it, but he also found it difficult to achieve change.

Could the FA change? In theory. Will it? No, certainly not. Will it resist? Certainly it will, and we should insist. A sports law should be setting out the basic governance and transparency standards rather on the model of a FTSE 350 company, which I wholly support, including a majority on its board of independent directors. If the FA will not change, I suspect that it will be necessary to appoint a commissioner to do the regulatory job right across the whole of the sport, as many sports in the United States have found to be such a decent model. The alternative, I am afraid, is a sporting embolism —a blockage in an otherwise healthy system, caused by clots.

Having mentioned clots, I turn to FIFA. Candidly speaking, you could not make it up: systematic corruption over decades, overseen by a group who have been there through those decades; World Cups awarded by a committee, nearly half of whom have been compelled to go and some of whom jumped just before that point; whistleblowers and investigative journalists disregarded; and no embarrassment quite enough to prompt any action. A senior United States lawyer is appointed to investigate but not to see the people who have already been exposed as corrupt, nor to review the huge Sunday Times documentation. Mr Garcia writes a long report that is not to be published. A German lawyer employed by FIFA writes a summary. Mr Garcia denounces it four hours later as inaccurate and defective. Still, no one wants to publish the actual documents. Candidly, I was surprised to be criticised for not helping Mr Garcia, although I was restricted to a sub judice restriction because I was being sued by a member of the FIFA executive for suggesting that there might be corruption in that organisation.

It would all beggar belief—but there is not quite enough disbelief, in a way. The England 2018 bid team apparently also has a secret dossier with potential evidence of widespread corruption. When asked by Mr Justice Dingemans, and I think by the Select Committee, it said that it had no further information. I must tell your Lordships that I would have loved to have seen it. It would have gone immediately to John Whittingdale and his committee, who would have been the people to judge whether it was appropriate to move further—not those who did not want it to be seen.

Again, I believe my thinking here is very close to David Bernstein’s. I will just say about FIFA that it needs root and branch reform. Its culture will not be changed by tweaking the processes—culture is always stronger than processes. Mr Blatter and the old school must go. His intention to run again is bad for sport.