David Bernstein: Ex-FA chairman urges Oliver Dowden to make reforming English football structure a top priority

Former FA chairman David Bernstein has written a letter to Oliver Dowden urging the Culture Secretary to put reforming football’s governance structure in England at the top of his agenda.

In October, Bernstein was part of an eight-person group which signed a ‘Manifesto for Change’, which called for a new regulatory body that is independent of football’s current structure in England.

Gary Neville, ex-FA executive director David Davies and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham were among the names who joined Bernstein in signing the manifesto, and in the letter sent to Dowden on Thursday, Bernstein reiterated his desire to see a reform when stating “the governance of our national sport remains a shambles”.

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He added: “English football’s failure to speak with one voice over the past months of the Covid-19 crisis have only highlighted a dysfunctional and damaging structure.

“There is no overall leadership and therefore vested interests continue to prevail. The financial disparity between rich and poor has frankly become obscene. The game is devoid of agreed priorities.”

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‘EFL relief package a sticking plaster’

Bernstein also called the recent relief package agreed between the Premier League and EFL a “short term sticking plaster” which the ex-Manchester City chairman believes will not help lower-league clubs long term.

He said: “Many of us were forced to wonder how could it be a positive solution for clubs in the Championship (who spend an astonishing 107 per cent of their revenue on wages) then to find themselves offered assistance in the form of loans, thereby piling even more debt on clubs who already owe over £1 billion.

“This can only seem to be a recipe for even bigger problems in the future. Believe me, I do not underestimate the importance of such assistance. But this is merely a short term “sticking plaster” and certainly doesn’t lay a finger on the long-term structural problems faced by so many clubs.”

Bernstein ended the letter by calling on Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to make this matter a priority.

“Secretary of State, the need for reform grows more urgent every day,” Bernstein said. “I think we are both aware of the current threat to the very existence of football clubs, small and not so small, that are the lifeblood of many communities you serve north and south. The momentum for change has surely never been so strong and so unanswerable as it is now.

“I urge you in 2021, even when of course everybody is well aware of other urgent matters in front of government, not to miss this opportunity, and to put football reform at the top of your own agenda. Millions will thank you.”

Sky Sports News has contacted the FA and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for comment.

In response to the manifesto, an FA spokesperson said in October: “The Football Association plays a vital role in governing and regulating English football and our league structure and ecosystem is the envy of the world. We work hard to maintain this system, with a clear focus on the wider game; not just serving the elite level, but the whole football pyramid and throughout the grassroots game.

“As English football’s governing body, it is our responsibility to work together to determine what is best for our game as a whole, with full dialogue between all key stakeholders.

“As we have said this week, any changes have to be done in the right way and with a long-term perspective in mind. We are not interested in any changes that are designed to serve one area of the game, nor will we entertain ideas that are primarily in the interests of the few.

“If the Government would want to amend and increase our responsibilities and powers to further improve the system, then we would be happy to discuss that with them, and of course we would consult with the leagues in the process. But most importantly, any changes must benefit clubs, fans and players across the English game.

“The FA has a clear direction and ambitious targets to ensure English football continues to be a force for good across every level of the game.”

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