Bradford South MP Judith Cummins spoke in a House of Commons debate yesterday about the Football Association and its role governing the sport.
Judith raised concerns about governance across sport, particularly in relation to club ownership, and took the opportunity to raise the recent administration and liquidation of the company that owned the Bradford Bulls. She also welcomed the creation of a new Bradford Bulls club since then.
The Labour MP also praised Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue, which is based in Bradford South, for the work they are doing and encouraged the FA to support clubs such as these and promote the work and example they are setting.
Speeches from backbench MPs were cut short due to time restraints, but the full text of Judith’s speech is below:
I speak in today’s debate as one of the Members for Bradford who, in recent months, has been deeply-involved in working to save my home city’s most historical sporting club. Many will know this proud institution, the globally renowned, Bradford Bulls Rugby Football League Club. I am pleased that, after many months of campaigning, the Bradford Bulls has risen anew from administration and liquidation. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing the club well under its new ownership.
The Bradford Bulls, I recognise, is not a member of the Football Association but another governing body, the Rugby Football League. But I believe most Honourable Members would agree that as a country, we face not only a crisis of governance in football, but across many of our cherished sports. Much of what has been said in this Chamber this afternoon is relevant not just to football but right across sport.
Through the events of recent months in my constituency, I have learnt much about governance, much about the role of governing bodies, and much, I am afraid, about the weaknesses in the rules and regulations in British sporting life.
Bradford is of course home to Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue, the latter of which is in my constituency. I dare to suggest that these clubs are good role models. They are the sort of clubs the FA should be encouraging others to emulate.
Bradford City has had its share of difficulties down the years and the club knows all too well the trauma associated with entering administration. They have learned the hard way, as so many football clubs have done. But today the club operates within its means and financial security is the foundation for their ambition, not the first thing to be sacrificed in the search for glory.
In addition, City maintain a policy of financial openness with its supporters and they are right to do so. It strengthens the bond between the club and its fans and its local community, and ensures everyone feels part of a common endeavour. And Bradford City has been rewarded with increased support.
In the non-league, Bradford Park Avenue has worked with Supporters Direct to move from private ownership model to a Community Benefits Society. I am very pleased to be watching them play this coming Saturday. I am also looking forward to becoming a member of Bradford Park Avenue Community Football Club at half time.
There are many great objectives that club members commit to. One I am struck by is its commitment to provide sporting facilities and opportunities to all. I hope the FA will support and applaud clubs at this level of the footballing pyramid to develop the sort of approach Bradford Park Avenue is taking to engage with their local communities.
If this type of approach is strongly reflected in the plans they present to Government in the spring then I will heartened by the FA.
As a country, we deserve strong, representative, and accountable governance within all our sport’s governing bodies. Today’s debate will identify a whole raft of failings in the governance of the Football Association. What is most shocking, in my view though, is not that the governance of the FA is in need of fundamental reform. That is a settled point. But that the Leadership of the FA has been so grossly ineffective in bringing forward these reforms, in the face of criticism from the cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. At best, they are dragging their feet. At worst, they are wilfully failing to act.
As a Governing Body of a major British sport the FA is arguably, above all else, a public institution. That is true, in my mind, despite the FA being a private registered company. As a public institution, Governing Bodies receive public funding, and, have the honour and privilege in having the leadership and regulatory oversight of British sporting life. It is only right that we hold them to high standards.
Strong accountability is critical not only for the sake of strong governance, but because a Sport’s Governing Body has an important role in agreeing, overseeing and enforcing a sport’s rules and regulations. Without strong accountability, where a Governing Body fails to uphold its standards, fails to stick to its rules, chooses to enforce its rules weakly, there is little to no comeback.
Sport is of course competitive – on the field and in a business sense – and the search for success and drive to achieve and excel at the highest possible level often means the lines often become blurred. Risks are taken. Longer term security is sacrificed for short term gain.
Those governing our sports need to be better equipped to deal with that and far more vigilant than they are. The focus of their priority has to shift. Complicity is not governance. Hesitance is not governance. Ultimately when a club goes into administration it is those at the bottom of the pile who suffer the most – the staff, the fans, the small businesses that support and work with their local club.
There is much work to do across sport. There remains persistent and valid questions about the effectiveness of regulation, proper scrutiny of ownership, and more to the point, the credentials of some of the people who take on our clubs. It is my hope that the Minister can offer the House strong assurances today about the future of sport’s governance, and in particular, the effectiveness of the fit and proper person test. Strong governance, accountability and regulation is key to safeguarding our country’s community clubs. My experiences of the Bradford Bulls in recent months, serves as powerful evidence of the need for urgent action.