The Long Ball Tactic

Sports minister remains silent on Supporters Direct

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on June 14, 2011

The decision by the Premier League to cut its funding to Supporters Direct has been met with vocal, widespread criticism from a variety of areas. One voice which has remained silent thus far, however, is that of Hugh Robertson MP, the minister for Sport and Olympics.

Robertson and his government’s silence is particularly striking, given that page 14 of the Coalition Agreement, set out by the Conservatives and Lib Dems in May 2010, contains an express commitment to “encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters“.

Robertson then reaffirmed this aim in September of last year in a debate in Westminster Hall on the governance of football, saying:

The twin aims of greater supporter involvement in running football clubs and the reform of football governance are shared across the political spectrum and are, as the hon. Gentleman correctly said, part of the coalition agreement. However, I have to tell him that, although the issue is widely agreed in this place, it is not entirely shared in the wider football family. There is a battle to be fought to convince the football family of the merits of this case.

A battle to be fought, indeed, and yet Robertson’s failure to act when an essential component of supporter involvement in football clubs becomes compromised is disappointing.

Further to this, when Robertson – a former army major and investment banker – was an opposition MP, he was a key note speaker at the Supporters Direct Conference in October 2008. Robertson told the conference of the Conservative’s belief in “empowering local communities” (recently re-expressed as  a key tenet of David Cameron’s “Big Society”), congratulated SD on their success so far, wished them luck for the future and assured them they had the full support of the Conservative Party.

In addition to his silence in the press, Robertson is also yet to sign an Early Day Motion in Parliament, tabled by the Labour MP Tom Greatrex, which criticises the Premier League’s decision to withdraw funding. Greatrex wrote on his website today that:

The Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson MP, recently described football as the worst governed sport in the country. He must now step in to protect the future of Supporters Direct, which has advanced the cause of good governance and transparency in the national game so much. The government must prove that it is not just paying lip service to the voice of football fans and use its influence to urge the FSIF to re-consider.

It’s hard to argue with that, regardless of whether you are to the left or the right of the political spectrum.

Greatrex and Robertson, it seems, have crossed paths on this issue before. On 16th June last year Robertson told Greatrex in a written answer that the government had no plans to provide funding for SD itself, a position that seems consistent with the coalition’s commitment to big society, not big government. With this in mind, it seems even more essential that Robertson act on his earlier pledges, follow through on his government’s stated wish to enable local communities to have a greater say in the running of local bodies, and speak out against the Premier League’s decision to withdraw their funding from Supporters Direct.

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