Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott.

I first thank the 412 people in my constituency who have signed these petitions. Football is deeply rooted in the fabric of our society, particularly in Loughborough, the national centre of sport. Football unites local communities and brings together people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. As one of my constituents said:

“Football is a living, breathing part of British culture, which must be protected from the heights of European football all the way down to the Sunday league.”

As we know, there has been a huge backlash against plans for a European Super League. I very much welcome the Government’s fan-led review of football governance. Loughborough University has offered to assist in that review, and I would be grateful if its offer and its expertise were taken up.

I also hope that examples of good ownership shine through in the review and serve as reminders of how football clubs can do right by their fans and support their local communities. For example, Leicester City football club not only delivers football and other physical activity sessions for local people, but supports refugees to rebuild their lives in the area and has facilitated donations from fans to refurbish a hospital unit at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. The groundsman at the club’s training ground has even shared his expertise with the bowls club in Sileby in my constituency, to help to improve its bowling green to Commonwealth games standard. That is a fantastic example of what club owners’ priorities should be and the contribution they can make to the area in which their club is based.

Ahead of today’s debate, I met the Foxes Trust, a non-profit supporters’ trust for fans of Leicester City football club, to discuss the Government’s review and to hear its thoughts on the petitions. The trust stressed that its relationship with the owners of Leicester City works very well, because the owners fully understand the community aspect of the club, and that understanding is backed up by prudent financial management. However, given recent incidents throughout football—including many that we have heard about today—the trust believes that meaningful dialogue with properly constituted supporter groups needs to be legislated for.

The trust feels that the 50+1 share model will be difficult to instigate in the UK. Furthermore, while fans should not have the ability to veto all decisions made by the board, the trust has said that it should absolutely have more say over the club’s finances and business plans, and be able to veto certain decisions to protect a club’s heritage, location and playing facilities. For example, that could be through a golden share, which would be administered via an elected fan to the club’s board and an independent executive director with responsibility for club heritage who is elected by fans’ groups via a vote of key stakeholders, such as season ticket holders.

With regards to the independent regulation of football, a local resident has contacted me to say that an independent regulator is needed to

“preserve the integrity of the English football pyramid and prevent its destruction by overseas owners and investors who do not understand its importance to the people of this country and wish to impose their own vision purely for profit purposes without understanding its place in the community.”

I would be grateful if the Minister could take those comments into account as part of the discussions.