The House of Commons Select Committee on Football Governance certainly finished their hearings with a bang.
First up was Mike Lee, ‘strategist behind the 2022 Qatar World Cup bid’, and late of the London 2012 Olympics bid. His appearance was bound to be confrontational given the submission of new evidence by The Sunday Times (1) regarding the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. He was given a bit of a hard time, and, unusually, received an apology for this (2). Qatar has become such an issue that even the International Olympic Committee have ordered a Qatari bribery investigation (3).
Next up, and the final witness, was Lord Triesman. His allegations about the bidding process for 2022 were made under parliamentary privilege, and have caused a considerable, and appropriate furore.
Important though the governance of the national is, I was disappointed that the Committee had drifted off what I saw as the main topic – the governance of leagues and clubs. Judging by the written submissions, this seems to have been the topic that was generally seen as more important.
There is perhaps a different reality, one in which the reform of club and league governance remains centre stage. On Wednesday Supporters Direct an launched two special briefings put together by Supporters Direct and Substance. Both concern encouraging supporter community ownership in football; the first is on Developing Public Policy and the second is on Developing Football Regulation. (I should admit a vested interest at this point – some of my research is quoted in the latter.) Both are downloadable pdfs, but note their length before you rush to print them.
Far from simply being an advocation of fan ownership, they set out clearly how the current financial model for running football clubs is broken, the specific ways in which it fails, and how a sustainable alternative model would work. As well as fan ownership, a strong case is made for club licensing along the lines of the systems practised in Germany and in Northern Ireland. The briefing papers also spell out the role that government should take in driving reform through effective changes in legislation rather than through some more direct intervention.
I found it particularly encouraging at the launch that there were 3 MPs present. Governance reform is definitely still on the political agenda. As Dave Boyle of Supporters Direct pointed out, a pile of all the official reports on football is now over a foot high, yet their recommendations have, on the whole, not been implemented. Such is the current state of football governance that the failure to take action cannot be justified. In real life, doing nothing is always an option whatever anyone might claim, but doing nothing would have a culpability to the disintegration of professional football attached to it.