Contrary to the popular adage, sport and politics have always mixed. Just reflect back on the sports boycott of South Africa in the 1980s which helped to isolate the apartheid regime. Alternatively, look forward to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and there can be little doubt that politics will play a role. The open question is whether the fact that the attention of the world will be focused on China will provide a window of opportunity for democratic voices or rather the chance to assert Chinese nationalism and power.
I myself will be seeking this week to raise two sporting issues in Parliament. For the first time in my eight years in the House of Commons I have been lucky in the Private Members Bill ballot. Although I am told by the Senior Committee Clerk that at number 19 in the draw my Bill will probably never even be debated, at least I have the opportunity to publicise a cause. My Bill which I must present to the House this week is entitled the Professional Football Clubs (Supporter Involvement) Bill. The aim would simply be to compel each of the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs to produce a plan which involves its supporters playing a part in decision making.
Some clubs like York City are already run by Supporter Trusts and would obviously have no difficulty in passing such a test. Although my Bill would not seek to restrict ownership of football clubs it would mean that a figure like the American Malcolm Glazer who has just taken over Manchester United could not treat fans with contempt. At the very least he or his representatives would have to discuss their plans for with recognised supporter representatives at regular intervals. Information is power and the fact that it would have to be shared could act as a powerful disincentive to the more irresponsible owner.
In parallel I will be tabling a Commons motion calling on the Government to extend the list of sporting events (which currently include the Olympics and the football World Cup) which must be offered at a fair price to terrestrial free to air television.
“A” list events must be shown live and “B” list events at least in highlights form. SKY have refused to sell highlights of the British Lions test matches against New Zealand to the BBC, depriving many keen rugby union fans of a chance to see their team play. Similarly this summer’s cricket test matches will be the last to be shown on Channel 4 before SKY’s exclusive deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board takes effect from next summer.
Why does any of this matter? It is simply because our football clubs and our great sporting events belong in some way to us all and should be enjoyed by all, rich and poor alike, not least so that future generations are inspired to take up sport.
The more exclusive these football clubs and events become, the more diminished they are.