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Burnham issues grass-roots plea

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Burnham wants all sports to reassess their relationship with money

By Matt Slater

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has called on Britain's leading sports to give more television cash to grass-roots projects.

The governing bodies of the UK's richest sports recently promised to invest at least 5% of their TV income in mass-participation sport.

But Andy Burnham believes this should be an "absolute minimum".

"We've heard commitments to 5%, well let's see that it's being met, and let's see sports go further," he said.

"What could be a bigger priority for any sport than investing in its supporter and player base? This is not a distraction, this is the very future of their sport.

"We don't want to see money going out of sports with inflated wages or excess of any kind when it could be going back into the foundations.

"I want to send a very clear message that professional sport has responsibilities to its grass roots: public facilities, coaches for the young people and so on.

"I want to put pressure on them to do the right thing. I am challenging sports to go a lot further than 5%."

I don't think I will be ignored - I have always had a good response from sport

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham
That figure was announced by the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR), an umbrella group that represents governing bodies, earlier this year.

Viewed by some as an attempt to nip calls for greater government regulation of sport in the bud, the CCPR's voluntary code included a pledge to keep top events on free-to-air television as well as the mass-participation commitment.

The code's eight signatories govern athletics, cricket, football, golf, rugby league and tennis, and include the likes of the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Football Association and the Premier League.

Burnham was at pains to stress his comments were directed at all sports but it is inevitable the greatest focus will be on the amount of money that trickles down from the Premier League, the world's richest domestic football competition.

The combined revenues of the Premier League's 20 clubs are thought to have topped 1.8bn last season, with over half of that coming from TV.

The Premier League itself hands over 131.5m to "good causes" but that includes 53.1m which goes to relegated teams in "parachute payments". Prior to last season those payments were 6.5m for each club for two seasons but that has been raised to two payments of 11.2m.

This leaves 78.4m (7.9% of the Premier League's annual TV income) which is mainly shared by the rest of the Football League's clubs, the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Foundation, arguably the only recipient to invest directly in the types of grassroots projects that Burnham is championing.

A TV camera comes in for a football close-up
Television has helped make the Premier League a global success story
Set up in 2000 to improve facilities throughout England, the Football Foundation receives 15m a year from the Premier League, about 1.5% of its yearly TV revenue.

Burnham's call for a more equitable split was just part of a larger message he delivered to a Sport England conference in London on Tuesday. In a wide-ranging speech, the 39-year-old minister urged sport to "reassess it relationship with money".

He said sports must regulate the flow of money so it does not threaten a sport's competitive balance, make sure that all levels "feel the benefits of investment" and try to keep commercial activities in perspective.

The Liverpool-born politician warned that if sports fail to do this they risk alienating the public and he pointed to cricket's unsavoury dalliance with Sir Allen Stanford as an example of this.

"We cannot let the pursuit of money take over the overall health and integrity of sport," he said.

"The public don't want to see sport where only money is at stake, as opposed to local or national pride - that's what really motivates people to follow sport."

Burnham said it was vital to address these issues now as unprecedented amounts of public money were about to flow into sport.

Last December, Sport England, the agency that distributes public cash for community sport, announced plans to spread 480m across 46 sports in an attempt to get one million more people playing more sport by 2012 - a key legacy pledge of the London Olympics project.

But this is not the first time that Burnham, who was given the Department of Culture, Media and Sport job in January 2008, has spoken out about sport and money.

Concerned about debt levels in professional football, last October he issued a seven-point plan to safeguard the sport's future.

A young girl playing basketball
Increasing participation in sport is a key legacy promise for London 2012
Burnham wanted the football authorities to report back to him within three months but he is still waiting for their response, prompting the suggestion that his well-meaning, and voter-friendly, interventions lack muscle.

But it is a suggestion Burnham rejects and he points to the Football League's recent vote to bring in a home-grown player quota as evidence that his more consensual approach is working.

"It's not my job to run sport," he explained. "Sport is autonomous and independent and as long as I'm in this job it will remain so. But I don't think I should stay silent.

"I see it as my job, because of the public money in sport, to raise issues of wider public concern. And that is why I'm asking all sports, not just football, to not just allow a situation to arise where competition is driven out.

"We need healthy, vibrant sport and that means having proper systems of regulation in place to ensure we don't see the dominance of a sport by a few.

"We are saying to every governing body that we will put more trust in you, and give you more ability to spend public money, but in doing that we're going to ask you more questions about how we secure the overall public interest, that's an honest relationship."

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see also
Clubs consider 'home-grown' quota
10 Feb 09 |  Premier League
Top sports make free-to-air vow
22 Jan 09 |  Sport Homepage
Panel to review free sport on TV
21 Jan 09 |  UK News
Clubs vote for 'home-grown' rule
18 Dec 08 |  Football
Grass-roots sport receives 480m
16 Dec 08 |  Olympics
Burnham demands football reforms
16 Oct 08 |  Football
Scudamore defends ownership test
07 Oct 08 |  Premier League
Brooking urges coaching overhaul
18 Dec 07 |  Football
Fit and proper person test
31 Jul 07 |  Premier League


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