Premier League faces renewed calls for increased funding for grassroots game, as campaign seeks 100,000 e-petition signatures to force Parliamentary debate on the issue.
The Premier League is facing renewed calls to increase their investment in grassroots football, following the relaunch of a campaign swiftly gathering public support.
The Save Grassroots Football campaign, launched last season and backed by David Crausby MP, calls on the Premier League to invest 7.5 percent of its broadcasting revenue into the grassroots game.
The Bolton and North East MP setup an epetition which gathered over 30,000 signatures in 12 months and has now been relaunched with a target of 100,000 signatures to try and force a Parliamentary debate on the issue.
“I think the time has come to really build meaningful support for this campaign. More and more people are recognising the problems facing our national sport and becoming open to new ideas to try and put things right,” said Crausby, who relaunched the campaign on talkSPORT this month.
“The cuts imposed by the Government on Local Authorities across the country mean that football is feeling the effect. I’ve heard stories from around the country about ordinary families unable to pay rising subs, poor quality pitches and an absence of decent changing facilities.
“I think that it would be unreasonable to demand that councils put more money into football at a time when such difficult decisions are being made, but I still think that it is important for our country so we must look for alternative revenue.”
The Premier League currently invests £56m in social and community projects each year, £12m of which is earmarked for grassroots football facilities, alongside £12m from the FA and £10m from government, as part of the FA and Premier League Facilties Fund.
Crausby (pictured) believes this figure is insufficient and puts the spotlight on the Premier League, with an annual turnover of over £1bn a year, to do more.
“When this campaign started the Premier League had just signed a deal for their broadcasting rights over three seasons that is worth £5bn.
“Clearly there is money in football, but it is being concentrated at the top. I don’t want this cash boost to be wasted on even higher wages for managers and players, it’s time for the Premier League to give more back to the grassroots.”
The relaunched epetition has gathered over 6,500 signatures within the first three weeks, leaving campaign founder Kenny Saunders confident that they can reach the magic 100,000 mark before its March 2015 deadline, which would mean the government has to consider holding a debate on the issue.
“If we keep up at this pace, I’m certain that we’ll reach our target of 100,000 this time,” said Saunders. “It’s out there again now and with England’s failure in the World Cup and more and more councils putting pitch fees up, we’ve kept the momentum going.
“More and more people are standing up and saying ‘you know what, for us to improve football in this country we need to start from the bottom’. We seem to have got miles and miles away from where the Premier League is to where grassroots football is.”
The Premier League, which has also come under pressure from the Labour party to increase its support for grassroots football, points out that it redistributes a higher proportion of its revenue to grassroots and community sport than any other European or domestic sporting body.
“Last season we invested in 52 new artificial grass pitches (AGPs) and hundreds of new grass pitches across the country via the new Premier League and FA Facilities Fund. Our money will deliver a further 100 plus new community AGPs in the next two years,” said a Premier League statement.
“Working closely with our clubs, we also support projects that focus on improving sports coaching in schools and inspiring young people to play sport. All of this activity is part of our £56m per season investment in good causes and grassroots sport.
“We understand that all those interested in the long-term health of English football want to see better grassroots facilities and higher levels of participation, particularly amongst young people. This is why we are committed to continue the unprecedented levels of funding we provide as well as being happy to engage on these matters.”
But for many, investment in the grassroots game is not making any positive difference to their own experience. Among them are the members of the Bootle Junior Football League, hundreds of whom protested this month about an near 300% increase in pitch hire fees for its Buckley Hill site.
The increase – which will see the league charged £5,280 for the use of the site this season, compared to £1,860 last year – was implemented by Sefton Council, one of many local authorities across the country struggling to cope with cuts in funding as a result of recent government cutbacks.
“Facilities are getting worse because of government cuts being put onto councils and councils are now putting that onto grassroots teams, who can’t now afford to play football or certainly can’t afford to train midweek because of the cost of facilities,” said Saunders, who doesn’t limit his criticism to the Premier League.
“The government’s Olympic legacy went out the window as soon as the Olympics were over and the FA have let us down for many, many years. We are just a cash converter in grassroots football – for bookings, sendings off, courses, CRB checks, everything.
“The FA and government should also be responsible for how poor the facilities are in this country, but we are targetting the Premier League because that is where the money is.
“They have millions and millions of pounds to do something about it and without grassroots football there wouldn’t be a Premier League. Every single player in the Premier League comes from grassroots football.”
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