August 1st 2019
Welcome to the Dream Team, but can they deliver?

Here at Leisure Leagues we warmly welcome the appointment of Nicky Morgan as the new Secretary of State for the DCMS and hope that Nigel Adams, our Sports Minister will carry on the good work that Tracey Crouch did when she was Sports Minister before the brief interlude of Mims Davies.

If we at Leisure Leagues had been asked to pick a new Culture Secretary, then our choices would either have been Nicky Morgan or Tracey Crouch, as we believe either of these MPs possess the detail, courage, ability and strength of character to see past the lobbying and noise of the FA and Football Foundation, and actually get inactive people playing sport.

Successive Secretaries of State at the DCMS over many years have all had the same problem – the lobbying of the FA and the Football Foundation both to receive more money, and to tell the department what a fantastic job they’re doing has provided a smoke screen to the true effect their disastrous policies are having on the ground for football in this country.

As most people on the ground know, the triumvirate of the FA, the Football Foundation and a pliant Sport England have healthy self-preservation streaks, with the Football Foundation particularly knowing that in reality, they are one in the same as the FA (in many areas of the UK the Football Foundation representative is the same person who sits with the local County FA) and all three organisations spend inordinate amounts of time both lobbying politicians and ensuring that the Civil Servants at the DCMS are always on their side.  Someone needs to rock this boat.

Privately, not only do the FA admit that they don’t need any taxpayers’ money (yet they still receive millions from the taxpayer each year) they also privately admit that they view this money to enhance their political reach, indulging in schemes which do nothing to attract the inactive to get fit and healthy, but do much to give an impression to politicians that the FA might be doing some good.  Expensive schemes which show the FA in a good light but actually do nothing on the ground in terms of getting people active in reality, have long been a staple of the FA’s plan to ensure that the money it receives from Government, as well as the influence, is always sustained.

The Football Foundation, in the small areas that it isn’t connected to the FA, isn’t much better.  Each year it produces meaningless blurb about new pitches it has built and new areas that have been targeted, whilst hiding the fact that money is poured into areas on a politically driven basis resulting in small towns ending up with so many new pitches they can’t fill them, and larger cities having a demand for astroturf pitches that simply cannot be fulfilled because there are too few provided.   Allied to this is the Football Foundation’s absurd policy, secretly implemented following discussions with the FA, that mean that only FA affiliated clubs can use new astroturf pitches at all the peak times.

Despite all this, commercial small-sided league operators such as Leisure Leagues, introduce tens of thousands of new people into sport each year without a penny of taxpayers’ money in their pockets, whilst the FA’s numbers steadily decline year on year.  No Secretary of State so far has woken up and smelt the coffee of this absurd policy.

The Civil Servants at the DCMS understandably do not want to upset the apple cart either.  They have to deal with Sport England, the Football Foundation and the FA on a weekly basis, and it is plainly not in their career interests to do anything which might spoil the duopoly of the FA and the Football Foundation in ensuring they keep on receiving money whilst getting fewer inactive people playing sport, and building new astroturf pitches in all the wrong places, not where they are desperately needed.  The whole system is in desperate need of an overhaul.  The simple solution is simply to start from a premise that the aim of the DCMS, in respect of sport, or football in particular, is simply to use football, the world’s favourite sport, as a tool to get those that are least active in society, playing regular sport on a weekly basis, and how to go about that.  Every policy should be layered upon that simple, rather obvious we think, premise.

There will be resistance.  Any attempt to disband the Football Foundation (as we believe it should be) or take away the monopoly the FA has on the business of football in this country, will be hugely resisted and the FA’s political arms will swing loudly and forcefully into action.  The new Secretary of State must stand firm.  She has an opportunity to make a mark and finally end the discrimination which for too long has had such a disastrous effect on the opportunities of people to get into regular physical activity.  Perhaps though now, finally, we have a Secretary of State who has the capability of taking on just such a challenge and we wish her well.

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