It's not just football clubs who don't know how to consult: FA & Premier League Cup changes show administrators out of step

Last week, as we all know, The FA announced major changes to The FA Cup, its biggest earner, and without doubt the most famous club knock-out competition in World football.

Before I start, it’s really important to note that as far as the way The FA works, it has a Professional Game Board that takes into account the needs of the professional game from 1-92 by having four EFL and four Premier League members. It’s not ‘professional’ defined by whether they’re full time or some other spurious or difficult to define term based on whether players are full-time or not). It also has a National Game Board that takes into account the needs of the Counties, National League down, participation and football outside of the top-92.

I don’t propose to go into this, but the deadlock created by these two bodies being in effective charge of the game for years were the block to proper regulation. The point was that two sets of interests who were so content with their positions would challenge the primacy of the other lest it reduce their power or position. It’s the basic politics of self-interest really.

Aside from the noise created by whether clubs have or haven’t been consulted formally about the changes, the point is that there is a process that provides for their involvement, and they feed into the board of The FA, which has EFL Chair Rick Parry, and Dharmash Mistry representing The Premier League.

What I wanted to go into, briefly, was about consultation and a bit about ‘participants’.

What I wanted to do was to pick up on ‘Consultation Guru‘ and founder of the Consultation Institute Rhion Jones’s point about the ‘failure’ to consult here. Rhion makes the point that this decision is an example of the failures of governance in football that led the government to finally legislate for the Independent Regulator we so sorely need.

In this, I’d say he’s got a point, but it’s a bit more nuanced. In ‘consultation’ terms, I understand from a senior colleague at an EFL club, that the problem is that any ‘package’ of measures should have been presented to clubs formally. That, according to them, there would have been ‘push back’, maybe tells you something about why it appeared as an apparent fait accompli.

The issue of consultation when it comes to fans is different. Should fans be formally consulted – and by that I mean expressly asked for their views as a mandatory element of the process, as they are for the clubs? The problem here is actually very simple: fans are not a participant in the game. Even though they have been represented on the FA Council since about 2005/2006, they are not in the rulebook as a ‘participant’. I’ve often wondered whether things could be improved significantly if they were able to be regarded as such, but that’s not something that would happen quickly, and one of the issues is that participants in this case are those subject to the regulations. Fans are subject to certain types of regulations, including those related to public order at football. But they’re not in terms of owners, directors, players. I am regarded as a participant as a current director of The Dons Trust (and subject to the Owners and Directors Test), but that is as a director, not as a fan.

The issue for me here isn’t principally one of rules or regulations. It is one of culture. The FA is a body that 160-or-so years ago was established to oversee the rules and regulations for a game. Then it became the arbiter of a set of professional clubs and others who played and took part for pleasure. In the 1980s, it abrogated responsibility for that arbitration when it failed to stop Irving Scholar from setting up Tottenham Hotspur PLC, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And here’s the nub of the issue: The reason the regulator is happening, the reason the Fan Engagement Standard sprang to life suddenly two years ago, the reason The FA is wrestling with issues such as this where fans are expecting to be asked and have their opinion taken seriously in what the decision is and how it reached, is precisely because The FA, Leagues clubs, whilst essentially being examples of ‘multi-stakeholder’ organisations, don’t really appreciate what that means, and how that dictates a different culture. This is the challenge. Is football up to it?

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