The Football Association is to lose £1.6m of public funding for the amateur game after failing to reverse a sharp decline in the number of people regularly playing the sport.
Sport England, the body responsible for distributing public money to increase sports participation, says the reduction is a clear message that football needs to change its grassroots strategy.
The national game is one of six sports which have had funding reduced by Sport England.
Golf is the second biggest loser, having £500,000 of its overall funding package withdrawn, but there are also reductions for netball, hockey, mountaineering and rowing.
But it is football which has been hit the worst after the latest figures, published last December, showed there had been a significant drop in the number of people playing the game for at least 30 minutes every week.
In total, there are 1.84m people playing football regularly – a fall of 100,000 since April last year.
More than two million people were regularly playing the sport back in 2006, suggesting a long-term shift in people’s behaviour and attitudes.
Sport England warned the FA last year that it could lose up to 20% of its £30m overall public funding package for the four-year period 2013-17 if it failed to halt the fall in numbers.
While the cut of £1.6m is small in comparison to the FA’s overall turnover – which was more than £300m in 2012 – Sport England says it represents 10 per cent of the remaining money specifically allocated to the FA for increasing participation. In total, the FA distributes £43m a year to grassroots projects.
April 2012 to April 2013 1.94m people taking part
October 2012 to October 2013 1.84m people taking part
Sport England’s chief executive Jennie Price told the BBC: “I think this is a serious message to the FA. We’ve invested, over four years, £30m of public money in the FA so they have a real responsibility to spend it wisely and deliver results.
“Taking £1.6m away is a real sign they need to do something different and I think they will take it seriously.”
As part of its review process, Sport England not only considered participation numbers but also each sport’s plans to try to increase interest at grassroots level.
That is why other sports that have experienced a decline in participation – such as cricket, rugby union and badminton – have not had any funding removed this year.
The Lawn Tennis Association, subject to intense scrutiny over its failure to translate Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win into greater numbers of people playing regularly, had a £500,000 cut in 2012 and is having £10m of its funding withheld by Sport England until the agency is convinced there are plans in place to stop the slide.
While a funding cut may not come as a huge surprise to the FA, it is nevertheless an embarrassing blow to a governing body which has identified growing the game’s grassroots as one of its key roles.
Poor pitches and facilities – exacerbated by funding cuts to local councils – are often cited as the main reason for the decline.
But Sport England says the FA needs to follow the lead of other sports such as cricket, which have adapted the traditional form of the game to try to reach out to more people.
Source: BBC/David Bond
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