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Martin Glenn Promises UK Sport Governance Reform but Can the Football Association Deliver?

In October, Sports Shorts covered the release of UK Sport and Sport England’s Governance Code for Sport, which seeks to set the gold standard for sport governance.  Subsequently, In the weeks following the Code’s release, we noted that much of the media focus fell on the Code’s gender diversity targets.  This focus has continued and, in some respects, narrowed in the intervening months to a small number of governing bodies deemed in particular need of reform. Unsurprisingly, there has been particular media scrutiny of the FA.

UK, Footballer, Football Association

In December, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch warned in clear terms that the FA risked losing £30 million of funding if it failed to reform by April 2017, even postulating that the government would consider legislating to force through the reform if the FA failed to do so itself.  Viewed in light of the open letter sent by five former FA executive expressing serious concerns over the body’s ability to reform of its own initiative, and the subsequent move by the Culture, Media & Sport Committee to call for a vote of no confidence, there can be no doubt that this warning carries weight.

This week, Martin Glenn responded to some of the scrutiny, promising that the FA will reform. In particular, Glenn said of the FA:

“It’s got a good executive, we do good work, the board’s well organised but there’s something called the FA Council which has huge symbolic value – it’s the so-called blazers – but actually the man on the street thinks has disproportionate power. And the truth of the matter is that they don’t. They’re at best advisory, they can appoint or dis-appoint a chairman to varying degrees but they don’t do much else.”

However, Glenn also acknowledged that “the problem is that the FA Council, they don’t represent people who play football today… it’s over-represented by white males who are quite old… they’re not elected typically… and if you look at the people playing football today, who are running grassroots teams or whatever else, it doesn’t look like the people who are there at the Council…”

When asked how the FA planned to change this, Glenn answered:

“We’d like to see term limits … you might do three sets of four years or something and then you move on so fresh blood can come through” and that “on the board, it’s just to get more female representation, which we’ll do.”

This comment reflects two key provisions of the Code and, in that respect, is nothing surprising, although the reference to “just” increasing female representation is reminiscent of our previous comments on the disproportionate focus on gender diversity (particularly when one considers the wider issues relating to diversity, which we have previously covered here).  But most importantly, Glenn has made clear his commitment  to implementing reform and to generally increasing the range and diversity of the FA’s executives and Council.

As to the Council reforms specifically, whilst Glenn has sought to play down its role, the FA Council is currently comprised of 120 councillors, who will have to vote on the proposed changes. Glenn has expressed confidence that the “common sense” reforms will appeal to majority but Dyke’s departure following failed governance reforms will no doubt be ringing in his ears (as well as the ears of readers).  Will it be different this time?  Quite possibly, given Glenn’s stated intentions, the express requirements of the Code, the raft of warnings from UK Sports and the Culture, Media & Sport Committee, and the seemingly inevitable sanctions of loss of funding and withdrawal of governmental support of any future World Cup bids by the FA, should it fail to reform.

More generally in the corporate governance world, the UK’s Financial Reporting Council has this week published its annual report, in which it appeals to the government for more regulatory powers in order to address what it describes as the “failing public trust in business” and to extend reporting requirements to large private companies.  The rationale for the FRC’s request is to prevent companies simply paying lip service to shareholder complaints.  A change to the wider corporate governance landscape will inevitably have a knock-on effect within sport, including on the application of the UK Sport/Sport England Code itself.

In this climate, the pressure on the FA to reform is greater than ever and should in theory leave Glenn well-positioned to gain the necessary support from the FA’s governing organs.

© Copyright 2019 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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About this Author

Rosie Duckworth Attorney Squire Patton Boggs Intellectual Property
Associate

Rosie is an associate in the Intellectual Property & Technology Practice Group, based in London.

She has experience in both contentious and non-contentious commercial and intellectual property matters, advising clients in the sports, advertising, and media and entertainment industries.

Rosie regularly contributes to the principal UK sports law newsletter, Sports Law Administration & Practice and has also written for LawInSport, a leading online sports law publication.

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