General Election Special: The Labour Party Manifesto

General Election Special: The Labour Party Manifesto

As part of a series of special pre-election articles, we look at the Labour Party manifesto and the potential impacts that it may have on football.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has placed great emphasis on sport, particularly football in their electoral campaign, with a wealth of policy and political debate on the issue. The headline promise has been the commitment to ensure 5% of the Premier League’s domestic and international television rights’ income is diverted to the grassroot level of the game.

The Pledge

The other footballing commitments include the following:

  • Put fans at the heart of their clubs – by legislating for accredited supporters trusts to be able to appoint and remove at least two club directors and to purchase shares when clubs change hands. We will also review fan participation in sports governance more widely.
  • Fix the broken ticketing market – by enforcing anti-bot legislation and implementing the recommendations of the Waterson review to ensure fair opportunities for fans to buy tickets.
  • Improve access provision for disabled sports fans – by ensuring that rapid improvements are made and by prioritising action to make clubs comply with obligations under the 2010 Equality Act.
  • Ensure that investment and support is given to grassroots women’s football so as many women and girls as possible can benefit from participating in football

Jeremy Corbyn made the following comments in relation to these manifesto pledges (Labour Press Association):

“Despite the game we all love receiving lucrative domestic and international TV deals, the grassroots game has been shamefully starved of funding over recent years.

“Too often, youth football teams cannot find pitches to play on and when they do they are expensive and the facilities are not fit for purpose. All-weather pitches are like gold-dust and coaching badges can cost unaffordable amounts. Under these circumstances, it is no surprise we are not nurturing the talent that we all know exists within the beautiful game.

“To address this lack of funding and lack of facilities, Labour in government will ensure that 5 per cent of domestic and international TV rights money is diverted to the grassroots game. This will ensure the footballing talent of young girls and boys is harnessed, and football is a game for the many, not the few.” 

Despite being an outline vision rather than detail specific, these promises do fit nicely with the Corbynist view of Britain; ‘for the many, not the few’. Football, especially in the Premier League, has seen a trend towards wealth being concentrated in the hands of the few. At least financially, top level Premier League clubs have never had it so good, lucrative commercial and TV rights deals have meant that most clubs have moved away from the billionaires play thing model to actually being viable and profitable multi million pound businesses.

The concern though is the gulf between the bright lights of the Premier League and the grass roots level below, an area that has been painfully starved of investment and one that lags worryingly behind our continental rivals. A great barometer of this is the number of licensed coaches that we have in the country, crucial to developing precocious talents. 2014 data from UEFA has England on 1,395, Germany 6,934 and Spain 15,423 for A and Pro license qualification badge holders. This ensures that fledgling talents of all ages and genders in countries like Germany and Spain have access to top level professional coaching.

The great barrier of course is funding, the top badges in the UK can cost as much as £5,000 to complete. Most coaches in the UK are only volunteers or work part time, making such a step largely unfeasible.

It is for reasons like the above that Labour’s commitment to 5% is on the face a very sensible and practical pledge. Not only that, but it has the potential to be popular with voters; hitting the few financially to the benefit of the many. Clearly Labour are doing their upmost to return to some semblance of a peoples’ party as opposed to pandering to big business.

The proof will be in how this commitment plays out in reality, and to do this Labour would need to prevent a Conservative election win. Where will the 5% actually go? We have seen all too many seemingly prudent legislative changes that have been largely wasted through inefficient spending and administrative cost. Labour would do well to leave the investment down to those within the game, the Football Association and other relevant organisations. What the public and country needs are more pitches, coaches and opportunities for those on the very first rung of football’s ladder.

Are Labour naively tapping into football supporting voters, or is this a prudent policy commitment from Corbyn?