Grassroots football could face a period of serious decay resulting from reductions in local government funding, according to Mayor Andy Burnham.
The former Health Secretary issued the warning in an interview with The Telegraph, amid the paper’s six-point campaign to save grassroots football receiving widespread political attention.
Burnham highlighted that spending cuts would see players paying higher fees for pitch hire and related expenses, while simultaneously observing a decline in maintenance standards.
”The grassroots are looking at a pretty decade given where local government finance is”, said the 48-year old.
The former Health Secretary previously served as the administrator of the Football Task Force, a body that recommended that 5% of the revenue generated by the Premier League would be invested into the grassroots game.
Seen as one of the headline commitments of the scheme, it is believed that the Premier League agreed to meet this annual figure in exchange for government approval in their sale of broadcasting rights.
With the league now disputing that a formal pledge was made to invest 5% every year, Burnham has called for an investigation to be launched as to whether this level of funding has been provided annually.
With the Premier League’s current global broadcasting deal valued at £8.3 billion, it is understood that 3.6% or around £299 million is invested in schemes below the professional game. If that expected share of 5% was delivered, the funding would be worth close to the £450 million mark.
The Premier League has launched alternative programs, such as the Football Foundation, Britain’s largest sports charity that has provided £300 million of backing for projects since its launch in 2000. That figure, however, remains a thin slice of the television deal for 2016-2019 alone.
The need for more grassroots football-focused funding is blazingly apparent, with the six-point Telegraph campaign revealing that as many as 150,000 matches were called off last season due to poor quality pitches and a lack of available referees.
The six-point ‘Save Our Game’ campaign was launched late last month in an attempt to save grassroots participation in football after the sale of Wembley. Suggestions include the introduction of an independent committee, increased scrutiny on the distribution of funding, and the possibility of levies on transfers.
Burnham warned that an already-recognisable investment issue could snowball into much wider problems for the game at this level, without due attention.
”If we are not careful, this could end up being a classic piece of British short-termism where we are not investing in the base of the pyramid and then we start to suffer in a number of years.”
While there is an array of young British talent on show in the Premier League and at Manchester clubs, many often confuse the development of academies and youth squads in local areas with the need to financially support the participation of everyday fans in playing the game, at amateur and even beginner levels, on a week-in-week-out basis.
Increasingly often, casual teams are being priced out of the chance to play by the need to meet costs for private facilities, with local government-funded pitches regularly failing to meet the standards expected.