Jumpers for Goalposts: Is it time for a rethink of the way British sport is funded?

With the general elections less than a year away, the British media are going to be keeping even closer eyes on what politicians have got to say for themselves. While nobody can be sure of the victors, what we can be sure of is that every issue that affects the life of the British public will be discussed at great length through the mainstream media channels.

Something that is bound to come up in conversation over the course of the coming months is sport at grassroots level. Off the back of the hugely successful London 2012 Olympic Games, as well as this year’s World Cup in Brazil and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games, the ripples should be being felt all the way down to the lowest levels of British sport.

The news that less and less people are joining amateur football leagues each year, however, suggests otherwise. With the tournament in South America widely being received by all and sundry as the best in recent memory, surely this means that 5-a-side leagues, playing fields and indoor training facilities should be packed to the rafters? For whatever reason, this is not the case. For the next government, whoever it may be, to make a statement that supports the development of sport from the bottom up would be a huge deciding factor for the millions that are passionate about it across the British Isles.

The contrast can be seen most tellingly when you use England’s Premier League as an example. The self-styled best league in the world is also the richest, with revenue from television alone worth billions of pounds. While the Football Association fights tooth and nail to keep the F.A. Cup relevant, the Premier League enjoys the biggest audiences from around the globe. By now, the calls for a more even distribution of wealth to help the progression of lower level football are undoubtedly getting louder.

While this idea is often bandied around with very little conviction (remember the Olympics legacy?) there may be cause for hope on the horizon. Rumours coming out of Westminster in the last couple of weeks suggest that the major political parties may be considering a move to help the situation. The alleged idea is to introduce a compulsory five per cent tax on each club in the top league, generating about £275 million per year. If the majority of this income was put back into British sport both at an amateur and developmental level, the benefits would be huge.

School teams, Sunday league teams and non-league clubs alike are all part of the fabric of the game in this country. Many are left without the resources they need to continue playing the sport they love and are forced to close down. This is especially problematic at youth levels, as once children get out of a routine there is a high chance they will lose interest altogether. Whether the notoriously greedy Premier League will be willing to negotiate the proposal is a different matter.

Along with the power of the Premier League, fear of upsetting such a large section of the electorate by taking on their football teams has always been a risk the major political parties have never been willing to take. The atmosphere is different nowadays. While many fans will stand by their team until the bitter end, their attitude to their clubs’ owners is somewhat different.

The huge sums of money floating around English football are seen to have done more harm than good. While those at the top end have become extraordinarily rich, others are feeling the strain of rising player costs, rent, kits and even utility bills. One MP has stated that ‘school and recreational football is now played on deteriorating pitches and changing facilities are often decrepit and unhygienic’. It is no wonder that many are deciding to hang up their boots before they have even started.

At Team Colours, we speak to members of clubs from all over the country on a regular basis. The issues in this article are by no means exclusive to football. The amount of people that still play in local leagues is still at a considerable number, and with pragmatic action before the next election we could help usher in a new generation for grassroots sports in Britain.

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