UK Politics

Liberal Democrat conference votes for football reforms

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Wide-ranging reforms to British football have been demanded by the Liberal Democrats.

The party voted in favour of an independent review of the sport, stricter ownership rules, and tougher action against discrimination.

Activists at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow were told of "huge levels of debt", fans being "priced out", and clubs being "trashed" by their owners.

The party agreed to adopt the motion, called "reclaiming the beautiful game".

It proposed making homophobic chanting a criminal offence, strengthening the "fit and proper person" rule to decide if an individual is fit to own or become a director of a club, and to divert a share of TV revenues to support the grassroots of the game.

The motion also expressed "concern" that "winning has become the primary motive in the sport", which it claimed was leading to "financial risk taking, high debt levels and almost a hundred instances of club bankruptcy since 1992".

'More inclusive'

Opening the debate, Steve Bradley, the party's prospective Parliamentary candidate for Bath, said: "Football has an appeal and a relevance in Britain that goes far beyond sport."

But the game also has a "dysfunctional side", he said, "which risks its future viability".

The motion "blows the whistle on the mismanagement of English football's boom", Mr Bradley told activists.

He said the wealth at the top of the game was not trickling down to lower levels, and raised fears about the amount of debt clubs were building up.

Mr Bradley said governing bodies had "ceded control of the game" to the most powerful clubs, and "large swathes of the population" were "priced out altogether".

And he said there was a need to protect some clubs from being "trashed on the whims of those who just happen to be the current custodians of long-standing institutions".

Edward Lord, a former anti-discrimination adviser to the Football Association, said an independent review of football governance would "make it more effective, inclusive, and no longer subject to conflicting vested interests".

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Image caption Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United are amongst clubs hoping to return to the Premier League

But the line in the motion about the motive to win was branded "ridiculous" by Sheffield Central candidate Joe Otten.

He asked: "Are we a liberal party or a back-of-the-envelope over-regulation party?"

And Lib Dem councillor Prue Bray said she was "furious" the motion made what she said was little reference to women's football, and suggested the authors should go on equality and diversity training.

Winding up the debate, Manchester Withington MP John Leech said even many Premier League clubs struggled to make a profit, and said many smaller sides "teeter on the brink, year after year" financially.

As well as finances, Mr Leech said the motion was about fans, who he said were "the true life blood of football".

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee has previously published reports calling for major changes to the way football is run in England.

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