Once again, politicians loom large on the football horizon. The Independent Football Review, launched on Wednesday in London is the brainchild of Richard Caborn. The Minister for Sport in the UK, who has shielded himself behind the now expired UK Presidency of the EU, wants the ills that he perceives as besetting the game to be touched by the far reaching tentacles of the politicos.
The fundamental problem with the whole review is that it is not Independent as UEFA is funding the entire process. In reality it is going to prove to be little more than a sop to the bureaucrats of Brussels. The Nice Declaration notes that “Even though not having any direct powers in this area, the Community must, in its action under the various Treaty provisions, take account of the social, educational and cultural functions inherent in sport and making it special, in order that the code of ethics and the solidarity essential to the preservation of its social role may be respected and nurtured”. Which basically means that the EU has to make sure that sport must be freely available to all and whiter than white, although quite why the EU believes they are the correct body to review this is perplexing, given that they singularly fail to tackle their own internal corruption and that of farmers receiving subsidies through the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Terms of Reference (ToR) define the project but in my opinion earmark as a waste of £500k on UEFA’s part, clearly this is (1) a sop to the EU and (2) a politician picking an easy (populist) target to try to improve his threadbare CV. Firstly, the seven points can be categorised quickly as (1) those that are already regulated, (2) those that are unworkable and (3) social policy gone mad.
Regulation of Agents is an easy target for a politician and whilst I point no fingers at any individuals involved in this review, the smell of hypocrisy does not leave the room when a politician or Brussels bureaucrat decides that they want to investigate a matter. Additional rules are not going to improve the behaviour of rogue Agents. There are regulations covering their behaviour already – the step that is missing is the effective policing and enforcement of the rules and a willingness to stamp out bungs. Richard Caborn is no doubt aware of the FA Inquiry into Agents but presumably is choosing to ignore the lack of tangible evidence of wrongdoing. Until the impetus is handed to the Governing Bodies, this situation is not going to change. Appended to this paragraph in the ToR is a review of contract registrations and the contracts of minors. Surely these are governed already by FIFA / UEFA and the EU. Indeed it is the EU that has pushed football into one of the purest employment markets with a workforce that is highly mobile and able to work in all member countries, courtesy of the Bosman Ruling. The terminology of the section leaves a lot to be desired. “Trafficking of Young Players”? Surely the clubs have Scouts and can afford decent air transportation? This term brings forth images of lots of children queuing to climb into the backs of lorries to be smuggled across borders to play for a pittance. Perhaps the EU might be better advised to stop the Sex Trade and Illegal Immigration rackets before accusing football clubs of being involved in Gangland Crimes.
The sixth clause refers to funding at grassroots level of the game. In England, the FA does a pretty good job of providing funding to ensure that the game continues to thrive. There are also other grants available to the game through, for example, Sport England. Do we need rules forcing funding upon them? Where is it going to come from – for certain, the Treasury won’t give any tax breaks on the profits of the FA so perhaps Mr Caborn’s department could pass on some of their budget for this process.
The seventh and final clause refers to the safety and security in football stadia. UEFA, FIFA, the FA and the law of the land already cover this in copious detail. If the EU think that they can improve this, then so be it but this then brings into question all of the work carried out so far by the Football Licencing Authority and Local Council Safety inspectors.
Having started with the areas that are already governed, the Review then starts to dip its’ toes into Dreamy River in Fantasy Land. This is a direct quote from the Independent Football Review ToR, “The level of expenditure in respect of players, considering the financial (in)stability and concentration of wealth amongst clubs at both an international and national level, and to recommend changes where appropriate.” Gosh that’s all right then. God Bless ‘Em, the EU are going to set a maximum transfer fee level and save all those poor little football clubs who are held to ransom every time they want to sign a player. What happened to Supply and Demand? And they are going to review the “feasibility of Salary Caps”. These work in Leagues 1 and 2, proving that they are manageable and forcing clubs to review their squads. But these are not the problems. The largest hurdle faced by the Football League is the understandable reticence of clubs in The Championship to agree to a cap. They want to get out the division and stay in The Premiership, not yo-yo between divisions. Well, all apart from Sunderland that is. Salary Caps are completely workable and I suspect that the G14 clubs would welcome them to varying degrees. However, this will require FIFA to compensate clubs when players are on International Duty in order to alleviate some of the wage bill. No doubt the clubs will complain about any restrictions but all that will happen is that Corporate Sponsorship deals will be struck to cover the balance of individual players wages, as Arsenal had lined up when they tried to sign Johann Cruyff in the 1970’s.
Section Five states that one of the areas is “to encourage central marketing (collective selling/mutualisation)” and yet they question whether or not the Premierships Broadcasting deal is suitable or anti-competitive. You can hear the bottoms shifting on their seats now. This is also unworkable but throws into immediate question the broadcasting deals negotiated individually by Italian and Spanish clubs – will Juve have to support Siena by handing over part of their money? Will they do it? No, I doubt it. The altruistic side of their nature only generally extends to the odd surprise defeat not any monetary gain.
There are two remaining areas in this document. The first is already partially dealt with by existing rules, the fit and proper persons regulations for directorship of football club. There is still work to be done with one or two undesirables seeming to appear, particularly on the South Coast. And yet the Review then shoots itself in the foot (if it has any left). Part of this section encompasses the ownership or influence over more than one club. If the respective Governing bodies regulations do not cover this already then what the hell have they been doing in recent times? Surely, there is legislation covered by The Companies Act and Money Laundering Acts which are both UK internal and Europe wide?
The final is reproduced in its entirety below:
The “European sports model”: The central role of the football authorities independently to govern the sport while respecting the European and national legal frameworks and in harmony with the EU institutions and member states
- To make recommendations for how the EU institutions, member states and football authorities can improve and support the central role of the football authorities independently to govern all aspects of the sport, whilst taking into account the views of the different stakeholders and working with the EU institutions and the member states in respect of the underlying legal framework. Whilst the autonomy of football and its responsibility for self-regulation are recognised, it is also true that national Governments and the EU adopts legislation which can affect football. There is a need for coordination, dialogue and transparency.
- Within such recommendations it should in particular be described (i) which rules or measures do clearly constitute “sports rules”, i.e. rules which are for the competent football authority – enjoying a reasonable amount of discretion – to decide and (ii) for which other rules or measures the specificity of sport should be increasingly considered in the interpretation/application of the relevant legislation. For this purpose it will be of interest to provide an inventory of the existing interpretations by the ECJ and by the Commission on the “specificity of sport” (with concrete examples, particularly in the areas of free movement and competition policy) and consequently to provide a definition.
- To define the various stakeholders within the “European sports model”, as this applies to football, and to clarify their role and how they relate to one another. In particular, to demonstrate the natural and necessary role of the football authorities to care for the health and development of the sport as a whole from the grassroots to the professional elite.
- To demonstrate that the central role of football authorities, provided that they govern democratically and transparently, can be consistent with economic and/or legal concepts of a dominant position.
- To identify and analyse relevant examples from other sports that demonstrate the risks of undermining or dismantling the central role of a governing body, e.g. basketball, boxing.
Eh? I think I am misreading this. Paragraph one seems to be asking whether the EU can help? Yes – stay the hell out of football. The second is so ludicrous it beggars belief – is football a sport? Paragraphs 3 through 5 are brilliant – asking whether the Governing Bodies are competent and fit to run football. Of course they aren’t – they are bureaucrats. Incompetence is a technical requirement on their part. But the really scary thing is that Politicians are involved. And they are the true incompetents in life.
Todays Tunes are tracks from the early part of Paul Wellers solo career.
Pity Poor Alfie (Hamburg 1990)