Coronavirus pandemic ‘shone light on unfair pay’ in football, says DCMS committee report

Coronavirus pandemic ‘shone light on unfair pay’ in football, says DCMS committee report
Locked gates outside Bramall Lane
The Premier League was suspended for 96 days because of the coronavirus pandemic

Football must “reset” after the coronavirus pandemic “shone a light on the culture of unfair pay” in the sport, says a parliamentary report.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee’s stark report said “the current football business model is not sustainable,” and called on the Premier League to “step up” and help the English Football League (EFL).

In the report, the committee – chaired by Conservative MP Julian Knight – also said:

  • Parachute payments “must become a thing of the past”;
  • Football must become more representative of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and outlaw homophobic chanting;
  • The lack of women’s elite sport “risks undoing work to improve funding”;
  • It supports calls for the government to continue financial assistance to sports until fans are able to return;
  • The government should fund advertisements to encourage a return to recreational sport “without fear”.

‘One in five clubs on a watchlist’

During the pandemic, Championship side Wigan Athletic entered administration and EFL chairman Rick Parry told the committee that clubs face a “£200m hole” from lost revenue.

It came just months after Bury were expelled from the EFL because of financial difficulties.

Several Premier League clubs put non-playing staff on furlough during the pandemic despite continuing to pay players’ wages in full, decisions – some of which were later reversed – the committee said were “deplorable”.

Knight told the Press Association there were “10 to 15 EFL clubs on a watchlist right now in terms of whether they go bust”.

Parry, in evidence to the DCMS committee in May, said it was “difficult to answer” how many clubs could go out of business as a result of the pandemic. He said a “complete reset” was needed, suggesting a redistribution of revenue in the sport.

Parry also told the committee that parachute payments – given to clubs relegated from the Premier League to soften the financial blow – are “an evil that need to be eradicated”.

Six clubs in the 2019-20 Championship received parachute payments averaging £40m, while the remaining 18 clubs received £4.5m in ‘solidarity payments’.

The committee said: “Parachute payments must become a thing of the past, and considerable work must be done to advance work on salary caps.”

It added: “The Premier League is the main income generator of English football. If it does not step up to help the English Football League, many more clubs will follow in Bury FC’s footsteps. The EFL needs also to ensure it develops a more sustainable financial model.”

In response, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told the committee its annual £200m funding to the EFL – as “big supporters of the pyramid” – was paid prior to the pandemic and would continue “despite significant losses” to the league and its clubs.

He also said there has been “no specific approach” from the EFL about any rescue package.

Masters explained that “safety net” parachute payments allow newly promoted clubs to “invest and be competitive” in the top flight.

‘Football must become more representative’

The DCMS committee report also said football must become “more representative” of the BAME population.

It said the virtual absence of black club owners and chief executives is a “fundamental inequality at the heart of the game”.

At present there only five BAME managers across the top flight and EFL.

In July, the Football Association asked for clubs to voluntarily sign up for an ‘Equality In Football Leadership’ code, to increase diversity, and “ensuring that their boardrooms and backroom staff better reflect the communities they serve”.

But the report said that initiative would not “motivate clubs to act with sufficient speed”.

“Instead, we recommend that DCMS revises the code for sport governance, adding targets for BAME representation on boards,” it said.

The committee also said it would “continue to pursue opportunities in this parliament to introduce legislation outlawing homophobic chanting at matches”.

Women’s sport ‘disproportionately affected’

The report also looked at the impact of coronavirus on women’s sport, saying it had been “disproportionately affected”.

It said the consistent underfunding of women’s sport had been “highlighted, and in some cases even exacerbated” by the pandemic.

In football, the Premier League resumed but Chelsea were named WSL champions on 5 June after the league was curtailed.

In rugby union, the men’s Premiership plans to return on 15 August, long after the women’s Premier 15s season was declared null and void.

England’s male cricketers are hosting West Indies in a three-Test series, but England’s women are not set to play until 1 September at the earliest.

In May, sports minister Nigel Huddleston said the government is “fully committed to helping them recover so we don’t lose any of the great momentum that has built up”.

The report said: “The government should outline how it intends to support women’s sport post-crisis and ensure that, going forward, men’s elite sports are not further prioritised at the expense of the women’s game.”

Analysis

BBC sports editor Dan Roan

This report will be a sobering reality check for the football authorities in particular, amid the relief and pride being felt as the season is finally completed, and more widely as restrictions on sport are slowly lifted.

Although the committee does not have any power to dictate policy, it is influential, and the report paints a stark picture of the profound financial challenges that remain across both elite and community sport as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

At a time when almost half of the country’s public leisure centres and a fifth of swimming pools face closure, it will certainly add pressure on the government to step in, given the many jobs, health and community benefits at stake.

And it will reinforce those who argue that, in football, the Premier League now needs to do more to help clubs lower down the ladder.

‘Government must extend financial assistance to sport’

The DCMS committee says it supports calls from sport governing bodies for the government to extend its financial assistance until fans can return to watch live sport.

Mass gatherings are currently banned under coronavirus guidelines meaning sport has been held behind closed doors since its resumption.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week spectators could be able to return to stadiums in England from October, with pilot projects set to take place in the interim.

The Rugby Football Union told the committee it does not expect to recover financially for “four to five years”.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said: “If the autumn internationals go ahead, we will still lose something like £32m in revenue through to the end of the next financial year.

“If the internationals go ahead but are behind closed doors, that will be a negative impact of £85m. If the games are cancelled entirely, that will be £107m on top of the £15m we have already lost.”

In addition, the England and Wales Cricket Board says it may lose as much as £380m through lost income while the British Horseracing Authority estimates that racing will lose about £100m.

‘Fear of close proximity’ a limiting factor in return to recreational sport

With regards to recreational sport, the committee said it is concerned “a lack of confidence, and a fear of being in close proximity with people from outside their own household” will negatively affect a return to group sports.

It highlighted indoor sports, contact sports and sports requiring extended periods of close proximity with others as being particularly at risk of negative perceptions.

It said the DCMS should “fund advertisements” that use “realistic content about how to get back to exercise without fear” – similar to those used in the This Girl Can campaign – and establish a fund to invest specifically in helping people whose activity levels have been negatively impacted during the pandemic, such as older people and those from BAME backgrounds.

After warnings from UKActive chief executive Huw Edwards about the future of public leisure facilities, the committee said that “it is essential that leisure facilities are protected” and “urgency” is required to put in place necessary funding to preserve them, through the government working with local councils.

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