Tomorrow sees the annual Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge which attracts bigwigs from major clubs, leagues and football bodies across the world (above: Jack Warner speaks at the event in 2009 - CONCACAF accused Warner of fraudulent behaviour in April 2013). However, one group who won't be represented is fans, and the event will be worse off for it argues Football Supporters' Federation Chair Malcolm Clarke...
I know all about Leaders in Football because they have been sending me emails for months, encouraging me to make an application to attend. That is what you have to do – apply to attend. You can’t just pay up and sign up because (with an extraordinary sense of self-aggrandisement) they conduct a telephone “interview” with those who apply before they are allowed to register, which, if approved, costs a four-figure sum.
I have been through this process twice, most recently for this week’s gathering. This is not because the FSF could afford to send me – it most certainly couldn’t. On each occasion, I have made the case during my “interview” that, if they are as serious about having proper debates about the big issues in football as they claim to be, then all key “stakeholders” should be involved, regardless of whether they can afford the fee.
My main objection is not just about the lack of supporters as delegates, but the fact that they never even invite a speaker to give the supporters perspective on any of the issues they discuss, despite the central importance of supporters to those issues. Thankfully they do make space for two different speakers from the Ultimate Fighting Championship!
Those arguments have fallen on deaf ears. At one point, I was told that it would be inappropriate because it is an international conference. OK, I asked, would they invite someone from Football Supporters Europe? Err, no! And will all the speakers be giving only an international perspective? No answer.
Defect of vision
The truth is that the organisers of this conference simply don’t see supporters at all. It’s a defect of vision, despite the fact that without supporters, there wouldn’t be a conference in the first place because there wouldn’t be a professional game at all. Very few, if any, of the delegates will be paying the extraordinary conference fee out of their own pockets – it is, of course, paid out of income which couldn’t be generated without supporters.
I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that the FSF and supporters’ representative on the FA Council should be at this event. Fans are one of the key groups whose voice should be heard. Other people understand this. In their enquiry into football governance the Parliamentary Select Committee listened to our views, took many of them on board in their reports, and included our letter as an appendix in their last one.
You would have thought that alone might have merited a hearing as one of the “leaders”. That the organisers don’t get this is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, and neither are they unique in this. The last week has also seen our view on the Qatar World Cup being sought quite extensively by the media, and one of our responses to the media has been to thank them for asking us as supporters because no-one else has!
When the day dawns that those running football, and those organising conferences for those running football, realise the value and importance of listening to the fans, the game will be all the better for it.