sports gazette

EXCLUSIVE: Former FA Head of Public Affairs admits difficulty in running sport

Published: 3 Apr 2017

On Monday the Football Association announced that its council had unanimously approved a package of reforms proposed by chairman Greg Clarke.

The reforms are a response to government pressure after decades of inactivity and will push the FA a step closer to complying with Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch's sports governance code, which came into force on Saturday.

The plans will now go forward to the FA's annual general meeting on May 18, when they will need a 75 per cent majority for approval.

Mark Sudbury, Senior Director of Global Engagement at St Mary's University, Twickenham, was once Head of Public Affairs at the FA and despite criticisms of the FA's structure, admits he recognises the difficulty that comes with running a governing body.

Sudbury told Sports Gazette: "Any sports governing body has its challenges and I think it's difficult to think of a sports governing body that you would say 'Oh, they are really good'.

"You go through those cycles sometimes. The RFU have had their moments where they've seemed to be quite on the ball. Cricket Australia was seen as sort of paragon at one point when they had an all-conquering team, but not anymore.

"There's something in-built to the challenge of being a governing body that I think will always make things difficult to run it."

The reform talks came off the back of a damaging child abuse scandal that rocked the football world as several former footballers came forward to share their experiences of abuse by coaches when growing up.

The FA came under a lot of scrutiny about their dealing with the historic abuse, but Sudbury feels the issue was not as big to the governing body at the time

"I don't recall it being a big issue that we were thinking hard about at the time I was there," he said. "We were doing things around it and I was involved in a new team that had been set up to develop a child protection policy, I think, at the end of the 90s, beginning of the 2000s.

"The FA will feel on the back foot because I think the ability to demonstrate a lot of proactive activity over a period will not be there, reflecting where the issue was at the time.

"But equally, I think there have already been positive things that have come out of it. I think people will understand that the FA has not been overly defensive about it, it recognises there is a serious issue here that needs to be dealt with and I think people will expect to see activity on the back of the enquiries that have been going on.

"The other thing you have to remember is with an issue like that, when it's running football you can pin everything on the door of the FA because it's totally in charge of football. When you get into broader social issues, at some stage there's a limit to what a governing body can do.

"What it absolutely needs to do is to have positive relationships with people like the NSPCC and the police and I think you've seen good evidence of that happened."

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