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Sport: Governance — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:13 pm on 4th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:13 pm, 4th December 2014

My Lords, this has been a terrific debate to the best standards that we normally have in your Lordships’ House. All sorts of expertise and experience have been on display, and as a result I think that we will be able to draw together some thoughts that the Government might wish to respond to. All who have spoken appear to agree that there needs to be more focus on policy in this area. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, for her maiden speech. She has been described as the “First Lady of Football”, but obviously she has many more strings to her bow, as she mentioned in her speech. She made the very good point that sport’s unique attribute is its ability to break down barriers and engage everyone in a common pursuit, but rather than leave it at that, she was able to exemplify it in her work at West Ham and Birmingham City before that. I think that we are all the better for hearing those figures because they are very inspirational.

We have had blasts from my noble friend Lord Triesman and others—most recently the noble Lord, Lord Marland—about the existing arrangements. There have been common themes throughout the debate which fit very closely to what I think were the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in bringing forward this discussion. As he said, he is trying not only to publicise his Private Member’s Bill but to influence the manifesto process. There is certainly a great deal of information here that could be used by people who have that awful task to come.

In fact, I had a mental vision of where that Bill came from. I wondered whether, when the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was Minister for Sport, or perhaps in his later life, he used to wander around the world with a little black book writing down “Good ideas that I might put forward in a Bill sometime”. It is about not just sport—or even sport and education or sport and health—but other issues relating to more general comments about the state of the world today. It left in my mind a suggestion that in some more benign future era we might find time in your Lordships’ House for people who have the “Bill of Dreams” up their sleeve. They might be given the opportunity—perhaps in a resignation speech—to say, “These are the things I would have brought forward to legislate had I been able to do so”.

Enough of that—the issues that I think are at the heart of this debate are based around the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about the autonomy of our sporting endeavours. Now that sport is so much a part of our national fabric, is there now a role for the Government, not just because of direct financing or the impact on policy, to act as a regulator or legislator of last resort behind the activities of sport? It is true that the Government directly fund sport. It is true that policies on sport and recreation feature strongly in government policies. There has been a huge change in the way that sport is now funded and operated. Commercialisation has taken over. The relationship between sport, policy and the law has to be considered. We need to think about serious and large-scale criminality both on and off the field and in online and face-to-face betting. We really need to think again about the way in which we fund grassroots sport and increase that funding. In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor has suggested a novel but very interesting step forward in this area in relation to thinking about trying to use the intellectual property that resides within sport to provide a stream of finance that might be put forward. I hope that the Minister will pick up on that, because it is a significant change of track compared to where we were in the Gambling Bill and one that I think has many lessons for the future.

As many noble Lords have said, we need to think about the years of disenfranchisement of the loyal supporters of our major clubs and about ways in which they can make their voices heard and their influences felt. As was said by the noble Lord in introducing this topic, we need an athletes’ charter which ensures that the voices of our sports men and women are heard and that the many concerns they have about how their sports are organised and run are not just heard but acted upon by the governing bodies of the sports. The sports governing bodies must be fit for purpose and transparent and they must have standards that are more equivalent to the FTSE 100 rather than some sort of amateur “blazer brigade”, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Addington, put it—we understand what he meant by that. Within all that, there are questions about equality that were touched on by a number of speakers which need to come forward.

With that range of issues in play, which I think reflects many of the comments made, I ask the Minister to think about some of the specific questions he was asked. I mention football first because it rather dominated our discussion, perhaps to the exclusion of some other issues and other voices we might have wished to hear. The speech of my noble friend Lord Triesman was very specific, and the point was picked up by my noble friend Lord Faulkner. There are commitments in play from the Government about how to deal with the FA/Premier League situation. There were promises made and draft legislation referred to—where are we on this?

On the wider question of reform, it would be possible within existing laws, I think, to make a series of commitments about reforming sports governance, not least because so many sports now receive the majority of their funding through the Government, either directly or through the lottery. Standards, transparency, professionalism, equality, access and inclusion are all issues that need to be picked up. The Government have those powers—what are they doing about them?

We are all saying, with a single voice across all parts of the House, that there are real problems about the international associations, their lack of accountability and their inability to pick up on standards that would be commonplace in any other activity. What are the Government doing in relation to FIFA, for example, or to the other questions that have been raised? What way could the Government find of bringing together those interests within Government that bear on sport? Education and health were mentioned, along with sport in a separate department. Sport is not in a strong position in these, because it is very often a minor player, but surely there must be something more than just an informal arrangement. Does the Minister have anything to say to give us some solace on that?

I was very struck by the number of people who picked up on the question of criminality in sport, to which I have already referred, but there seem to be four dimensions here, of which we are tackling only one. Doping is a major issue, where we are very much not in control of our own destiny, but we could do a lot more. There is no law on match-fixing: why is that? How can we possibly have a situation where it is impossible to bring any direct criminal charge on somebody who deliberately fixes a match, whatever sport we are talking about? That, of course, plays into betting. There are rules in betting about that, but those rules have such weak penalties that the last successful criminal activity in this area actually employed the Fraud Act—hardly a way of trying to root out people who are betting illegally on the outcome of particular overs in a cricket match.

Grassroots funding, as I mentioned, is a real problem. Yes, there are plenty of fans and they can be accessed, but they are not circulating as well as they could do. If we want to have proper access to sport at all levels and for all abilities—and have elite sport within this—we really need to unpick this. What are the Government doing to resolve that?

Finally, I want to make two points about equality. First, it seems extraordinary to me that we are still in a situation where not everybody in our community can access or have sight lines for a sport that they can pay for. Access for those who need special treatment still seems to be lacking. We should also reflect on the point that, sometimes, it is simply the language that we use. I am not picking up on any particular individual who has spoken here today but, sometimes, by concentrating on the football analogy and the football metaphor, we sometimes exclude more than we gain.