Former Football Association chief executive David Bernstein has warned that the governing body is sleepwalking into a “dangerous situation” over a package of reforms that he believes is merely cosmetic.
Bernstein is a long-time critic of the FA’s structure, which he said was over-represented by “elderly white men” in a letter calling on the government to intervene last year.
That letter prompted a vote of no confidence from MPs in the FA’s ability to reform itself, since when current FA chairman Greg Clarke has outlined proposed reforms, which include those aimed at increasing diversity.
Yet Bernstein, who led the organisation from 2011 to 2013, has warned that the government will miss a rare opportunity to truly reform the FA – and give it more clout in its power struggles with the Premier League – if it accepts Clarke’s ideas and declines to impose stronger measures.
“I think Greg Clarke is doing the very best job he can, but it’s a dangerous situation where he’s come up with a package which might sound half OK but actually is not going to make a real difference,” Bernstein told City A.M. at a Cogress Investor Club event.
“If it’s accepted, it will lead to a situation going forward where for many, many years we don’t make the real change that is needed. So it’s a dangerous thing.
“The whole structure needs a real axe taking to it. What’s happening here is not an exe, it’s a bit of a feather duster.”
The FA faces the threat of losing £30m in government funding if it cannot convince sports minister Tracey Crouch that it is serious about change — a failure which Clarke says would prompt his resignation.
Proposed reforms include introducing a nine-year limit on membership of the FA board, increasing the minimum number of women present to three and introducing an age limit on FA Council members.
Yet Bernstein does not believe they go far enough and has called for the government to intervene and introduce legislation to achieve root and branch reform.
“You’re going to have an FA board that will be slightly different but will still be controlled by vested interests,” he said.
And then you’ve got the FA Council where the changes I can see are pretty superficial and the periods of length of service are enormous, ridiculous.
“The power of the Premier League and their interests percolate right into our game. Premier League money is everywhere and money comes with soft power which is felt in innumerable ways.
“You’ve also got the desire of FA councillors to remain in situ. They’re a group of very decent people by and large but together they’re an incredibly conservative bunch. And the FA shareholder body above that is even more conservative, it’s like the court of the star chamber.”