Examination of Witness

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 14 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

David Newton gave evidence.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Llafur, Ealing, Southall

We will now hear from David Newton of the Football Association. We have until 3.50 pm for this session. Will the witness please introduce himself for the record?

David Newton:

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Committee this afternoon. My name is David Newton. I am head of football operations in the FA’s structure, with responsibility for player-related matters, competitions and professional game relations.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Q One of the key parts of the Bill is the state of the game report. What value do you think it will have and what timescale should it be carried out within to be of most benefit?

David Newton:

The state of the game report will be a valuable asset to us as a sport, because it will draw on the widespread aspects of football, not just the narrow responsibility of the regulator, so it will reflect the whole football pyramid. As you know, the FA is responsible for 16 million or 17 million players and all the money flows within football. It is important that the work of the regulator is set in the context of the wider game. That is where we feel that the report could add value. As previous speakers have alluded to, football is a fast-moving industry, so three years seems about right.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Q Competition arrangements, such as the FA cup fixtures, do not fall within the scope of the Bill. Do you think that is the right choice, and why? Feel free to take this opportunity to add anything on the changes to FA cup replays and why they happened the way they did.

David Newton:

The short answer is no, we do not believe that competition format matters should be an aspect for the regulator to consider. In Dame Tracey’s report summaries, competition format was not part of that, and I think we feel that competition format matters should remain the province of the football authorities, whether that be ourselves or the leagues. There are specific football-related matters that should remain in our ambit, and this is certainly one of those we feel quite strongly about.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

Q One of the comments on the Football Bill is that it does not particularly mention players, and that the scope of the regulator is purely financial and about financial sustainability. The clubs also, as part of their licensing agreement with the regulator, have to produce a corporate governance report. Do you think the Football Association would have any objection if, as part of that governance report, the regulator asked clubs to demonstrate not only how they are financially sustainable but how they met all their other obligations?

Football clubs are not only licensed by the regulator. They are licensed by the Football Association as well. There are articles of association of the Football Association, which place responsibilities on all clubs. Do you think it would be good and proper due diligence for clubs to have to demonstrate through their corporate governance reporting how they meet all their obligations within football—to the FA, to their players and to the welfare standards they are expected to follow?

David Newton:

It is an interesting point. It is not one that we have necessarily considered in detail. I do not see any reason why, in good corporate governance practice, you would not refer to your corporate governance standards with all employees, whether they be players or not. From that perspective, on the face of it, it would seem a reasonable assessment.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

Q Would you want some assurance that the job of the regulator in this regard might be to request the information and check up on the clubs, but not to have a role in setting the welfare standards, which would be the remit of the competition organisers and the FA?

David Newton:

I guess it depends what you mean by checking up on the clubs. We have quite a strong structure of engagement with the players: the players’ union, and the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee, on which both leagues and we sit with the PFA to discuss on a quarterly basis every aspect of players’ employment by clubs. We would certainly consider that to be the appropriate avenue for those things to be dealt with. I would not necessarily advocate the regulator having formal step-in rights in respect of players as you have outlined, but reporting standards on employees I can see.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

Q That was perhaps not the best use of words. I meant if information was brought to the regulator, or if it had reasonable grounds to be concerned; its primary job would not be to check on those things, but it could relay that information back to you as the FA, which has investigatory powers of its own. It is more a question of whether, in principle, you think that those sorts of standards should be incorporated into the corporate governance standards that the regulator should set. That would simply be good practice.

David Newton:

I guess it depends on what you mean by good standards. If you are talking about things like national minimum wage or employment rights, then absolutely, those things would be expected. In football, we have our own structures, as you say, for dealing with player-related disputes, or players not being paid—the leagues have very strong rules on that—so those things are dealt with in the structure. Sharing of information with the regulator will obviously be something that may come into focus, once it is up and running, because it is important that there is not duplication of requests for information and that those information requests are shared efficiently.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Q It has been mentioned that the remit of the regulator and the legislation is on things that do not matter to the FA, but do to the fans, such as the FA Cup. One of the objectives of the regulator is to safeguard the heritage of English football. Do you not think that the FA Cup is part of that heritage?

David Newton:

Absolutely, the FA Cup is an essential part of our football heritage. We reflect that and take the FA Cup extremely seriously. It is a fantastic competition. Everyone cares passionately about it within the FA, me as much as anyone else. Prior to Dame Tracey’s report, we had already established heritage assets in protection of club playing names. Since the report came out, we have also established rules in the FA on club crests and club colours, so we are very aware of heritage responsibilities in that respect.

David Newton:

We are very aware that FA Cup replays are a hugely emotive subject. The FA Cup as a whole is a hugely emotional subject for football fans. We took a decision based on an extremely congested football calendar with which, as has been referred to previously we are very much in the hands of the world and European governing bodies and the fixture list. We took a decision that, in such a congested calendar, certain difficult decisions had to be made. But in doing so, we also preserved other elements of the FA Cup that we think are equally strong things, such as exclusive weekends for the FA Cup, which sends a strong message. A stand-alone Saturday for the FA Cup final and things like that also play into the whole narrative. We are particularly keen for the David and Goliath aspect of the FA Cup to continue. Many historic FA Cup games have been decided on the day, and that will continue.

On the financial side of things, we are very keen to emphasise that no lower league club will lose out as a result of the loss of replays. We would rather see clubs budget sustainably for revenue in the FA Cup on a consistent basis, rather than for the one-off potential replay chance. We realise we cannot budget entirely for hope, and every football fan—I am no different—loves replays in the sense of the hope, but unfortunately difficult decisions have to be made and that is where we have got to.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Q Are you frustrated at the FA that, somehow, this great competition and its heritage are being undermined by the interests of a handful of clubs who are going to play European games? It is the top few clubs, again, driving what happens for everybody else.

David Newton:

I do not think that is necessarily a fair characterisation. The fixture calendar is extremely complex. We sit down two years prior to the season with our colleagues at the Football League and the Premier League and discuss how we are going to best fit in the games we have. We are the only major European footballing nation with three domestic cup competitions: the EFL trophy, the Carabao cup and the FA cup. We have 20 teams in the top league and 24 in each of the other three leagues, and the calendar is extremely congested. It is not just as a result of European ties. Each of those is a fantastically vibrant competition in its own right. Each of those competitions has a heritage and importance, and it is about a balance between all those competitions, as well as the European ones, that allows them to be fitted in.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

Q We have heard, in these sessions and beforehand, about the scope of the Bill. Some feel it goes too far; some feel it does not go far enough. Can you talk about your perspective of its narrowness in terms of financial regulation, and why that matters in relation to the relationships and statutes that FIFA and UEFA have?

David Newton:

It is common knowledge around the room that UEFA and FIFA have statutes of their own, which basically prevent state interference in the running of football and football competitions. We have worked closely with UEFA and FIFA, and with the DCMS staff who have worked so hard on this Bill. They have been taken through where we have got to. Although we have not had a definitive view as such, it is reasonably clear that a tightness of the Bill relating to football governance is not likely to present huge or significant problems, subject to any changes that may occur. However, anything wider would increase the risk of FIFA or UEFA intervention. That is obviously a place we do not want to be, because of the sanctions that may flow, in theory, from that. We continue to work closely with both those bodies and keep them abreast, along with DCMS, of where the Bill has got to, but I think the narrowness of scope is very important.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

Q To return briefly to the point that Clive made, there is enormous strength of feeling among many fans and clubs about the replays. What is the process for reviewing that decision?

David Newton:

The decision has been signed off, effectively, by the FA board for next season. Indeed, the fixture calendar is so full that the spare slots, if you like, have already been allocated. At the moment, there is no review of that position. We are obviously aware of the strength of feeling, and I hope I have gone some way towards explaining how we take that decision. We take the custody of the FA cup extremely seriously.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

Q What will you be able to do for seasons in the future?

David Newton:

In fairness, I do not think the calendar shows any let-up. As has been mentioned, we have a FIFA Club World cup involving 32 teams in the summer next year. That will continue to sit in the calendar, as will the expanded Champions League format, with extra midweek matches. We still operate three domestic cup competitions, which all have to be accommodated as well.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

Q I have to come back to this question about being custodians of heritage, because there is something really important here. Mr Parish said that money is pouring in from Europe. On the question of replays, the issue is that clubs are not going to play fewer games; they are going to play more games that are more valuable. It seems that in the decision that you have reached, you have looked at it purely transactionally: “We have a competition; we need to see results.” It is not even just about hope. You have cut out the match-day experience, the travelling to a new ground, and the stories that fathers tell sons and daughters over the years. Can you understand why fans, when they look at this decision, think that it should fall under the scope of a regulator?

David Newton:

I can completely understand fans’ passion for the FA cup. People who work in football—all of us in football—have that same passion for the FA cup and our other competitions. We have all done those things that you talk about. Competition formats have changed over the last 30 years in a variety of the different competitions in English football that I have referred to, and that has been the way. I guess, as the game evolves and different demands are placed on it, that will continue to happen. As I have explained, the decision taken was based not just on one set of circumstances. There is a huge number of factors relating to the fixture calendar, which is an extremely complex piece of architecture. As I say, the decision was a necessary consequence of that, but, absolutely, we understand the passion and the interest that is involved in the FA cup.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South

On heritage, the Bill gives fans say over club colours and club crest, but the ultimate say on club names stays with the FA. That is based on existing FA rules, if I am correct?Q

David Newton:

Correct.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South

Q Can you give us a bit more of an explanation as to why fans are not given any say over names in these rules?

David Newton:

In club playing names?

David Newton:

We introduced the rule about 10 to 15 years ago, and the rule actually gives the FA Council the final approval of a name change to a club in the top tiers of English football. As part of that, we conduct an extensive consultation. Thinking about one in particular, there was a significant amount of consultation with local stakeholders, the local MP, the local fans’ groups concerned, and so on. The decision was voted on by the FA Council, which also has supporter representation on it, so supporters are very much part of the stakeholder community that will consider those changes in names.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South

Q When you are collating those opinions to make important decisions such as that, how do you ensure that it is as accessible to fans as possible, and that there is a genuine emphasis on their involvement?

David Newton:

As I say, the most recent one or two that I can think of were some time ago and were probably quite well publicised. The consideration of those decisions would have been accompanied by all the relevant submissions made by the various stakeholders and considered in the round, and the weight given to those views.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Ceidwadwyr, Chatham and Aylesford

Q I have two quick questions. Are you content that the Bill preserves the FA’s position as the governing body for football in England, and are you content with your role as an official observer on the board? Secondly, in previous correspondence, the FA has been keen to ensure that there were no unintended consequences for women’s football. Are you satisfied that that is the case?

David Newton:

On the first point, as I outlined at the start of this session, the FA is responsible for the whole of English football, ranging from grassroots right the way up to the international team. The Bill is concentrated, as we know, on a small—but none the less very important—subset of that. Our role as an observer on the board is extremely helpful to that. I am confident that with the work we do—whether that is in grassroots, on and off-field regulation, disciplinary matters, the national teams and that sort of thing—our position as the governing body of English football remains.

Regarding the women’s game, you are absolutely right. We raised the potential concern of the unintended consequences of investment in the women’s game being affected by their co-dependency in some situations on the men’s game, and with funding being removed or reduced as a result of decisions by the regulator. It is important that the regulator, in exercising its powers, does so in a proportionate and reasonable fashion and bears in mind that co-dependency, where it exists.