You may remember my blog from September asking people to take part in a consultation that the Government was holding on sport. Following that consultation the Government announced their Strategy for Sport.
This was definitely a step forward because somehow through the whole of the last Parliament they had no strategy at all. The document covers a wide range of topics and I won’t go into them all. Although, it is nice to see many policies that Labour suggested in the last Parliament are now being adopted by the Tories.
My focus is on the issue of funding for grassroots football. Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has said that a new agreement has been reached with the Premier League reflecting the new massive deal that they have signed for future TV broadcasting rights. She claims investment in grassroots football will double. The details haven’t yet been confirmed, but £100 million a year has been mentioned.
Of course I welcome any increase in funding by the Premier League, but it still sounds very disappointing. The Premier League have had a long standing voluntary arrangement to give 5% of their broadcasting rights to grassroots, they unfortunately haven’t always stuck to it but that is the benchmark. This announcement seems to fall sort of that right away.
The Premier League look set to bring in £8 billion from TV rights over three years. Some quick maths tells me that 5% would mean over £133 million each year. That’s a lot more than the vague £100 million figure the Minister keeps mentioning.
We need to see a guarantee that grassroots will get a minimum of 5%, plus assurance that this will be monitored as we know that in the past the Premier League has failed to meet this expectation.
I still believe that there is room to go further. In the past I have suggested 7.5% of the broadcasting rights, a small adjustment for the Premier League but a huge windfall for grassroots. I don’t ask for this for the sake of it, or to take shots at the Premier League, I ask for more because I believe that it is necessary.
81% of publicly accessible football pitches are owned by local councils or schools. Funding for local government was cut by 40% in the last Parliament and will fall again by 56% by 2019/20. Funding for sports will be devastated.
There will be demands for the Government to give more money to local government and I support that. However, I recognise that councillors have to prioritise social care, child protection, economic regeneration, poverty prevention and much more with every pound that is won in that fight.
But I will not allow sport to be sacrificed when there is an alternative available. If the Government won’t support sporting facilities themselves it is their duty to work with the FA, to work with the Premier League, to work with the thousands of volunteers up and down the country to make sure that grassroots football has a solid foundation. It must be accessible to every child who wants to take part and that means decent pitches with somewhere to get changed that are affordable to use.
Unless we ask the Premier League to go beyond 5% I do not see how grassroots sports can counteract this enormous hole in council funds. The danger is that football becomes the preserve of only those who can afford it.
The Government are finally heading in the right direction but it is no time for small steps. This new TV deal is an opportunity to do some good for the future of football and to improve the lives of children across the country. I’ll be asking the Minister to make the most of this chance, another one won’t come along soon.