November 11th 2019

Secretary of States come, and Secretary of States go, but the one thing that remains constant in the DCMS are the civil servants. And they are the ones who are really in charge.

The UK’s largest organiser of small-sided football leagues, Leisure Leagues, have long made the case that they suffer discrimination at the hands of the FA who, in order to hold onto their monopoly on the business of football in this country, insist the only businesses that can be involved in football are those that automatically pay them, the FA, a handsome fee to so do.

And if a business wants to get involved in football but decides not to pay the FA what is, in effect, a ransom fee then the FA, and its integrated sister arm, the Football Foundation, along with a duplicitous Sport England infiltrated with FA cronies, start sending out messages to players, referees and facilities alike, up and down the country, that such organisations are not welcome.

The threat, which is being made increasingly clear, is that if a facility allows a business to hire its pitches, and that hiring business does not pay the FA money (i.e. is not affiliated), then the facility will be excluded from any future grant applications it may make to the FA, the Football Foundation or Sport England.

It is discrimination. The government has long accepted this. In no other sector would this sort of discrimination be allowed. So why isn’t anything done about it?

Tracey Crouch was the first Sports Minister who recognised these unfair and discriminatory practices which effectively stop tens of thousands of young people engaging in healthy exercise each year, and started doing something about it. Unfortunately for those thousands of young people, she resigned from her post as Sports Minister, typically, on a matter of principle.

Jeremy Wright became the new Secretary of State but was hampered by an incompetent Sports Minister in Mims Davies and a civil service, headed by Nico Heslop, who weren’t really that keen on challenging the FA, the Football Foundation or Sport England; a triumvirate of bodies with whom they had to deal with on a weekly basis.

Now the new Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, has left also. Similarly, she showed a willingness to get to grips with this issue in her own constituency, and to challenge the effective monopoly on the business of football which the FA exerts, ably encouraged and supported by Sport England.

You would have thought it would be simple. Everybody accepts that the FA are using unfair competitive practices to discriminate against legitimate businesses, and the idea that a business which is a competitor to the FA (who operate their own small-sided leagues) need to pay money to the FA, as a competitor, simply to run their business, is the sort of thing that would make even those in favour of single industry nationalisation blush.

But it isn’t so simple. Nico Heslop, although given instruction by his political bosses to solve the problem, came up with a typically weak and ineffective solution by asking the Football Foundation to post an article, hidden away in a newsletter, to facilities instructing them that, please if they wouldn’t mind, could they possibly make sure that they gave everybody a fair and equal go.

Why on earth couldn’t the FA, the Football Foundation and Sport England have been told to stop the discrimination in their tracks, end the monopoly, allow businesses to have free access to facilities and, in turn, get thousands off their PlayStations and engaging in physical exercise, whilst creating new job opportunities in the process?

Well, this is the British Civil Service; a group of diplomats who do not want to upset the apple cart. For them, change isn’t good, even when the status quo is obviously damaging to society and businesses across the UK. They have their relationships. In the case of Nico Heslop and his team, with the FA, and at all costs they don’t want to upset that. They have friends in the FA. Contacts that might help them to get on in their career. Well, they might even end up with a nice plum job in the FA, funded by the taxpayer of course.

So why would they want to challenge the FA, even when the evidence presented to them is so startlingly obviously that discrimination is happening on a daily basis, when it might harm their own career?

And of course, the FA, the Football Foundation and Sport England are not stupid. They spend vast amounts of money, yes taxpayer’s money, in simply promoting themselves, telling everybody what a fantastic job they are doing, handing out large salaries to their employees like confetti. They maintain a close, closed political network – the FA, the Football Foundation, Sport England and the DCMS – which appear to the public as separate bodies but which anybody with any knowledge on the ground knows are a quartet of organisations operating on a system on of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”, and a world of nudge nudge, wink wink favouritism which does the public an enormous disservice.

Nico Heslop, who has now happily moved on to another stage in his career away from the DCMS, had agreed yes, of course, it was a terrible that discrimination was occurring towards non- FA football and he would do his very best to try and solve the problem. He would arrange a meeting with the FA, he said, and make sure that people that come after me know all about the problem, and solve it. I understand the problem, and want to help, he said.

Nothing happened during his time at DCMS, and then he left, doubtless to pastures new where he can claim to have been a great success in the DCMS, can’t he? Well of course he can, just ask the FA! And so this world of cliques, backhand favours and promises continues, to the detriment of those organisations being discriminated against and in turn, to the masses of potential players, currently not engaged in physical activity, who are being deprived of opportunities to play football. The boy who never got in the school team because he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fit enough and now wants to play a competitive sport in a competitive small-sided league of his own standard, on his local astroturf pitch once a week to try and get fit, to enjoy himself, for the first time to have an opportunity.

And as a society isn’t it exactly these sort of people that we want to get fit, off their PlayStations and Xboxes or off the streets, and engaging in regular physical exercise?

No, it’s not the FA, the Football Foundation or even Sport England who are the problem. They are simply exploiting a situation which they have been allowed to exploit by the inaction of the civil servants. We don’t blame the politicians either. They have tried their best but have been blocked by a weak and ineffective civil service. No, let’s be clear – for once it isn’t the politicians to blame, it is those shadowy figures in the background that think ,whatever injustices that may lie around them, that change is never a good option.

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