Is government control of sport a good idea? I don’t think so. Nor for that matter does FIFA or the IOC, both of which have regulations which threaten to expel nations whose governments impose political control over national sports federations. FIFA recently explained what they mean by political interference:
“The most common case of political interference is when a government perceives that the Executive Committee of the national association is not performing well enough and decides to take action. Often, because the national team is losing too many games, they decide that changes must be made and want to put someone else in charge.”
So why is Britain, a nation with proud tradition of sporting independence, threatening to impose legislation on English football? A Parliamentary Select Committee published a report yesterday threatening that if the Football Association did not bend to its will then Parliament would draft legislation.
Their report makes interesting reading, though sometimes you have to pinch yourself; here are some of the causes for concern:
- Rangers (a Scottish team not regulated by the Football Association) collapsed
- “vested interests” are too powerful (what is a sporting association other than a collection of vested interests?)
- There is too much consensus (we need more dictatorship?)
- The FA Board has not reduced the number of its members from 14 to 10 as the committee wants (how do politicians know the right number of board members?)
Behind this flim-flam lies a very specific agenda:
- The committee wants more fan involvement in club management
- The committee wants tighter financial regulation and less debt
Now, I’m not against fan involvement- I admire examples like FC United, AFC Wimbledon and Swansea City where fans have shown commitment and enterprise to play a significant role in shaping a club. I also admire Supporters Direct, which does a great job promoting fan involvement and can point to a string of achievements (and only a few failures) over the last decade or so. They use the grant they receive from the Premier League very wisely.
But legislation to mandate fan involvement? Surely experience shows that this kind of interference only leads to cronyism and corruption? For example, at one point the Committee seems to suggest that the fans should have a say in setting prices- presumably at lower levels than currently set. If this were to happen in the Premier League, where most games are sold out, there would be excess demand and a lively secondary market- lining the pockets of those who can control ticket distribution.
As for financial regulation, I’ve probably said enough about the problems of Financial Fair Play elsewhere on this blog for people to know where I’m coming from.
I’m not sure why this government committee thinks it’s such a good idea to impose legislation – it’s not as if the government can point to a fantastic track record in those industries which it already regulates – notably financial services. I think the answer is that in a world where they seem powerless to do much to save the economy (as it enters a triple dip recession) they think that at least here they can do something. I also think that they get bombarded with complaints from a vocal minority of constituents who do want tighter regulation.
I’m not sure if FIFA would expel the FA if it were subject to government regulation, but it ought to. But even more salient, even the committee recognises that any problems that currently beset English football arise from its very success, rather than failure (“in many ways the need for reform is a reflection of success, not failure”). Maybe legislation can turn a success into an even bigger success: but how likely is that?