The government takes on the FA

By Ian Dunt

The government found itself at loggerheads with the Football Association (FA) this morning after sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe threatened to withdraw £25 million of funding unless it implemented recommendations made to it four years ago.

Prominent among the reforms are equality recommendations seeking to reform the largely white male character of the association.

Lord Burn’s 2005 report also called for the organisation to be streamlined and for two non-executive directors to be added to the board.

The government is concerned at a persistent lack of transparency and accountability at the FA, which its recommendations four years ago have done little to change.

“Funding is one lever we’ve got,” Mr Sutcliffe said.

“It would be a last resort. But there has to be, and there already is, a recognition that the status quo is not good enough.

“We see ourselves as critical friends. We have a £25m investment through Sport England, we contribute £15m to the Football Foundation, football comes to the government to ask us to help on European issues around TV rights, around a whole range of issues. At the end of the day it’s football and football should be running the game but as a government with that investment I think it’s right we say what we think.”

Mr Sutcliffe also called for a closer and more harmonious working relationship with the Premier League and the Football League, and voiced disappointment at the continued lack of prominence of women’s football – despite the fact England’s women’s team often have far greater success than their male counterparts.

“Football is a success, nobody is saying it’s dying on its feet,” Mr Sutcliffe continued.

“But what we have to do is maintain the progress and the Football Association is the body that can make sure that it’s representative and can lead the way.

“I think it is competent but as recognised in Burns there’s a long way to go. To change from the old style structure to the new structure we need to have non-executive directors on the board [and] there needs to be progress in the women’s game.”

The FA promised to study Mr Sutcliffe’s recommendations.

“The issues raised by the original questions and the minister’s response represent important challenges to the game at all levels,” a spokesman said.

“They merit careful thought and a proper response with football working together in partnership.”

The standing of the FA is in direct contrast to the fortunes of the national team which came out at the top of its group in qualifiers for the World Cup, to be held in South Africa next year.