The FA should be transparent, not a weird private club

Date published: Monday 18th September 2017 11:55

When we hear the words ‘The FA’, it feels like a reference to a democratic, publicly accountable body, doesn’t it? It’s not, but that’s how it feels.

This weekend there were further developments in the Mark Sampson/Eni Aluko controversy, with the FA agreeing to conduct further investigations into the accusations of racism. Without raking over the issue in detail, just read Danny Taylor’s superb Guardian pieces about it. This one is especially incisive. And this sums up where we are now.

The FA come out of it looking anything from inept to…well…who knows? One thing is for sure, not for the first time, the FA has performed amateurishly throughout this issue, up to and including paying Eni Aluko £80,000 ‘hush money’.

But this shouldn’t be a surprise. Why would the FA be consistently any good? No-one independent of the FA oversees the FA’s performance. They answer only to themselves, usually via an ‘internal investigation’. They will be asked to explain themselves to parliamentary committees, yes. But those committees have no power to affect any change in the organisation.

No-one from the outside can change them. In fact, any attempt to change them is always resisted. Just ask Lord Triesman, the former FA chief who last year called for the government intervention to impose change on FA. Nothing has happened.

The whole organisation is such a dense, multi-layered and multi-tentacled mycelium, it simply isn’t possible to know who is doing what, why, or if it is being done to any standard.

The FA operate without any form of checks and balances, yet it is at the beating heart of English football. It administers the game from the top to the bottom. You can’t play football at any level without sticking to FA dictat, and paying them money for the privilege.

But who are the FA? And how are the people who administer it qualified for this incredibly complex, sprawling job?

The senior management team is 12 people from a variety of backgrounds, some in football and other sports, some in the corporate world, and a couple with a background in biscuits.

Below them is the FA Board with eight members and the FA Council with 126 members. Last year Greg Dyke stated that “10 per cent of the members are over 80 and 80 per cent are over 60…four out of 120 are from ethnic minority backgrounds, only six are women”.

Then there are over 50 County FAs, including representatives for counties which haven’t existed since 1974, such as Cumberland and Westmorland, as well as (for some reason) the armed forces. Each County FA (Yorkshire is represented by Ridings, not as a collective county) has its own committee of up to 12 managers and officers. Then there are the various FA committees which have over 330 positions. All of these people, on all these committees, pontificate on the whole rainbow of football issues, making decisions about our football lives without ever having to account
to anyone outside of the organisation for the veracity or otherwise of those decisions.

The FA is an almost laughable behemoth. When you look through who is on those various committees, old names like Sir David Richards and Brian Barwick (presumably still with a jug of goose fat) crop up, sometimes on more than one committee. The FA website makes no attempt to explain what all these committees do. One is called ‘Facilities’ and another is simply ‘Women’s’.

There are four people on the FA ‘Ambassadors’ Committee. Maurice Armstrong, John Waterall, Jack Pearce and Chris Saunders. What does ‘Ambassador’ mean in this context? What are these
people doing? How often? Where? How long is their tenure? How much were their expenses? What, if anything, were they paid? How did they get on this committee? What are their qualifications for the job? Are they any good? Who is assessing the value of their work? You could ask these questions of everyone on the FA’s infinite roster of appointments.

I’m not saying they don’t do a good job, or are not well-deserving of the role, but how could anyone know, either way? There’s no way of knowing. What I am saying is none of us have a clue about the quality of their work. It is a non-profit organisation, after all. The whole thing should be transparent as glass and it isn’t.

Here’s another example. Recently, the FA announced a pool of ex-players, managers and match officials, who will be appointed to review alleged incidents of ‘successful deception of a match official’. Okay, fine. But who chose the pool of ex-players and officials, on what basis and at what cost?

The whole organisation seems to exist in its own self-generated bubble, answering to no-one except itself, which is how you end up with the latest in a long line of cock-ups, mis-managements and mess – the Mark Sampson case.

The website is choked with bland corporate statements like ‘a new and exciting challenge in a progressive organisation which is striving for excellence’ and ‘the shared values, vision and pride of our people is central to our success’. Eni Aluko might be entitled to raise her eyebrows at such statements.

At times, it is as though they are attempting to parody the worst middle-management word clouds of obfuscation, which sound like they’re saying something, whilst saying nothing at all. These sort of words hide the truth; they do not reveal it.

In relation to the Aloku case, Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out, said the FA should explain the full details around the case, pointing out it has a “responsibility to be transparent” but the whole organisation is entirely devoid of transparency, through every layer of its self-feeding, inward-facing autonomy.

There is no independent measure of its success or failure. There is no-one making sure it is doing a good job, except the press, and if they find it is not doing a good job, no-one except the FA itself has any power to affect change.

The Guardian’s Danny Taylor is one of our greatest journalists and he has tried to hold the FA’s positions and statements to account, but frankly, they can easily ignore him and other critics because it’s not like anyone can shut them down, dock their wages or sack them. They have no rival, no administrative competition, no-one who can bid to do the job better. They’re untouchable. As long as no actual laws of the land are broken, they can go on being rubbish for as long as they like.

This is why the FA roam around the football landscape leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

That such a huge thing as football should be in the hands of such an opaque organisation is, by any measure, wrong. At the very least, it needs routine independent assessment from an outside body with powers to muck out the stables.

But such a thing is impossible because the FA would have to both initiate and approve such a move and why would they cede their power?

The FA run football as though it is their private business. The Mark Sampson issue is just the latest poorly handled, worrying example of their ineptitude. It’s time it was totally modernised, overhauled and streamlined. Time it was run like 21st century publicly responsible organisation and not some weird private club. How it is now is not acceptable. Just ask Eni Aluko.

John Nicholson

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