What’s the story?
The English Football Association (FA) has been subject to a symbolic ‘vote of no confidence’ from MPs over its failure to modernise and become ‘fit for purpose.’ There’s now a real chance that English football’s governing body could be subject to painful new legislation.
It’s the 153-year old organisation behind modern football, and it stands accused of being a dinosaur. The Football Association, which carries the can every time England exits a major tournament, is now being charged with the harder-to-shake accusation that it is no longer ‘fit for purpose.’
The claim came as part of a House of Commons debate about football’s governing body, after a Commons Select Committee investigation. The committee recommended that the association must significantly modernise, or risk losing £30-40 million a year of public funding. Damian Collins, who chaired the committee, said “no change is not an option... the FA, to use a football analogy, are not only in extra time, they’re at the end of extra time.”
At the heart of the required modernisation is the FA’s extraordinary lack of diversity. Of the 122 members of the FA’s governing council, only eight are women, while 12 are men over the age of 80. Only four members come from non-white ethnic backgrounds.
The FA’s chairman, Greg Clarke, says he has a programme of reforms in place, and will quit if they don’t win government approval. He acknowledges that change is needed – especially but not only in the area of diversity – and said that he ‘watched and respected’ the views aired in the debate.
Not everyone at the organisation responded so benevolently however. Keith Compton, one of 25 FA life-Presidents, asked if such a matter should even be discussed in parliament. “It’s a pity the MPs have got nothing better to do,” he told the BBC.
What have others been saying?
The Guardian’s David Conn says that the Government’s vote of no confidence was ‘more of a whimper than a roar’, which lacks any real power to drive change.
Sports news site ESPN offer this great explainer piece, which charts how the government’s intervention arose.
Keith Compton, an opponent of the government’s intervention, defended the FA’s apparent lack of diversity to BBC Five Live.
#1 – DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
At the heart of calls to modernise the FA lies a serious concern about its lack of diversity. The church has often faced similar claims, particularly around the role of women, and the often mono-cultural nature of church congregations even in ethnically diverse areas. Yet at its heart, Christianity is not a faith of boundaries and exclusion. Paul speaks against racial and gender divisions: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3 v 28).” And Jesus is radically progressive in his treatment and inclusion of women, whether teaching, healing or eating with them. Theologian Walter Wink even says that “Jesus violated the [cultural practices] of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels." Diversity and proper representation for everyone should matter to Christians, and been displayed in our church.
#2 – MODERNISATION
Like the FA, the church is often called to modernise, and is often resistant. Yet while the core message of the Christian faith should not change, the method through which we communicate it must stay relevant to the times. This is modelled by the Apostle Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17, who ‘reasoned in the synagogue and the marketplace (v17-18)’ both with God-fearing people and local philosophers. He then met with a group of people who the Bible says ‘did nothing all day but listen to the latest ideas (v21)’, and refers to their own culture, their own art and poetry, and even their own religious idols, in order to communicate the Gospel. Even 2,000 years later, Paul’s method of stepping into and engaging with culture is radically progressive, and re-learning this approach in every generation is exactly the kind of continual modernisation that the church must embrace, without sacrificing that core message
Points for prayer
- Pray for those who feel disenfranchised by institutions where power is held unequally because of gender or ethnicity
- Pray for those campaigning within the church to see justice in the way that people of different ethnicities and genders are able to play a part and find a home.
- Pray for the members of the FA, that their hearts would be open to leading a prophetic change that other old institutions might follow.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.