Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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It is always a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Ms Elliott. I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for his excellent introductory remarks and my Neath constituents for signing the petitions, and I congratulate Wales on securing a draw in their first Euro match last Saturday, despite not playing their best.

The anger and furore over the recent efforts of six English premier league clubs to a form a breakaway European super league sparked universal condemnation from fans, yet it demonstrated the importance of football to the sporting community and wider society, and was evidence of a deep disconnect between football clubs and the communities they once represented. Many clubs are now global business, far removed from the supporters and communities from which they were established.

At the heart of the problem is ownership. The defining feature was once supporters and their interests, but now the footballing model pushes clubs into greater financial insecurity at the hands of unscrupulous owners with scant regard for fans and communities. Fans are taken for granted, and it is taken for granted that they will always support their club, irrespective of their having no say in how it is operated. The UK Government’s fan-led review is welcome, but wholescale reform is needed, putting ownership at the forefront.

Fan ownership has been part of a campaign that the Co-operative party has been conducting for the past 20 years. In 2007, the Labour party and the Co-operative party founded the fan ownership organisation Supporters Direct and campaigned for funding and resources to enable supporters to start fan-owned trusts and then progress to take over their clubs. We fought for supporters to have a place on club boards, so that fans could have a voice. We campaigned for the community shares model often used in supporters’ trusts and to strengthen community asset legislation to prevent the sale of football grounds.

The Football Association and governing authorities should welcome community ownership as a necessary means to safeguard clubs and ensure their survival. Football clubs are too precious to their communities and supporters to be at the mercy of unregulated, unscrupulous owners, and suffer weak governance from the Football Association, which is unwilling to take on those with vested interests in the game. A robust, effective, independent regulatory framework, with statutory backing, is vital to safeguard football.

Unless supporters can influence or have ownership of clubs or assets, we will continue to be second-class spectators. The 50+1 rule is the ownership model in the majority of German football clubs; commercial investors are unable to gain a majority share and supporters retain a majority of voting rights. The rule would not be suitable for shared ownership of the top English premier league clubs that have invested millions of pounds, but would be suitable as a voting structure. The five parts of the game should work together for the benefit of football.