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Football white paper is the first step to giving fans and players a greater role in football governance

(Alamy)

3 min read

I cautiously welcome the government’s white paper on football reforms as a small step in the right direction.

Football is important to so many people including, at last, more women and it is vital that we preserve and strengthen the link between clubs and their communities.

For just over a century governments have let football go its own way in terms of governance, making its own rules and laws, and it has, to a great extent, worked.

In the United Kingdom, the home of football, clubs have played a key role in towns and cities throughout the country, developing young people’s skills, community pride and exciting competition.

The ownership of clubs in the Premier League needs proper scrutiny and player’s spiralling wages need to be controlled

Great players have emerged, become folk heroes and earned a fair but modest wage in the process – many forget that a maximum wage cap was in place up until 1961, which meant the likes of Stanley Matthews were limited to a take home pay of £20 per week (around £900 in today’s money).

But ever since the wage cap was abolished, money has flooded into the game and the division of wealth between the leagues has widened dramatically to the point where the much-vaunted football pyramid system is effectively broken.

The Council of Europe has had concerns about this for some years now, and last year I produced the third report for their parliamentary assembly on reform of football governance. We came to the conclusion that governments, at both national and international level, need to intervene on a wide range of issues in order to effectively protect players and ensure fans regain their position as the primary stakeholders in football.

Our report recommended curbing certain dangerous excesses in the game, beginning with the transfer system, where a limit on agent’s fees would help regulate club spending. Fifa agrees with this proposal, but a few powerful billionaire agents continue to successfully lobby against any regulation.

We also recommended that fans and players should be given a greater role in football governance, at all levels. I am proud to be one of 8,000+ owners of Heart of Midlothian, the largest fan owned club in the UK, but we need others to follow quickly to put football in the hands of the people.

Furthermore, there needs to be a new agreement to ensure that wealth generated by the game reaches the wider community. Our report proposed that this could take the form of a solidarity fund which would use a small percentage of the vast and growing TV revenues to finance projects developed by fans.

The report also highlighted the need for continued and improved investment in protection of underage players and increasing gender equality, and some of this responsibility, undoubtedly, lies with national governments.

The UK government has been one of the first to take action, publishing a white paper which follows up on Tracy Crouch’s report, by proposing a regulator.

This is a welcome move but is still a long way from comprehensive action: the ownership of clubs in the Premier League needs proper scrutiny and player’s spiralling wages need to be controlled. If the home of free enterprise, the United States, can agree a ceiling on the wages of players in their national sport, why can’t the UK?

The UK government proposal has got the ball rolling, but we now need the Scottish government to develop a similar plan for Scottish football. This is a small, but important step, and we must work hard to ensure these initial reforms develop into a transformational movement which can return the beautiful game to the supporters.

 

Lord Foulkes, Labour peer

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