The FA – A Governance Story

For our special World Cup blog we thought we’d take a look at English football’s governing body. Its governance structures and its areas of focus as an example of the multitude of tasks and responsibilities that a Board has to oversee and manage. Even if your organisation is in an entirely different sector to sport & leisure, you will see the similarities and responsibilities that are inherent in all organisations regardless of size and sector.

football a governance story

The FA’s Governance Structure

As expected the FA is headed up by a Group Board with day to day management delegated to a Senior Management Team. The Board is supported by a number of Committees. Due to the far-reaching nature of the organisation, where most companies may have two or three committees, the FA structure includes a whopping 24 committees each with their own Chair and Vice Chair.

Board diversity has been a hot topic for some time now and as with all governance structures, it is important that Board and Committee membership is well balanced. In a male dominated sport and industry, it would perhaps be fair to say that this may have been more of a challenge for the FA, especially on the gender equality side of things. The Committee membership lists indicate that the FA could probably do more to increase its representation of women, and I’m sure it is doing so given its revised focus on increasing participation of women in the sport. Amazingly, in 2018 there are still a number of all-male committees, many with just one female representative, and ironically even with the Committee entitled “Women”, the make up is 9:5 in favour of male members! It also appears that the committees could benefit from greater representation in terms of ethnicity and background, but hopefully this will all be addressed as part of the new Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan to be launched sometime this year…


The FA is currently half way through its current five-year strategy, a far reaching strategy that looks to both its short-term and long- term goals. The current strategy covers achievement in all areas of the game including:

  • England teams England men’s and women’s senior teams ready to win in 2022 and 2023
  • Education– A world-leading education programme for a diverse football workforce
  • Female Football– A doubling of the player base and fan following of female football
  • Participation– Flexible, inclusive and accessible playing opportunities for everyone
  • Digital Engagement– Direct engagement with every fan, player and participant
  • Regulation & Administration– Trusted regulation, efficient administration and world class competitions
  • Venues– Wembley Stadium and St. George’s Park as world leading inspirational venues

pink pens for football governanceOn the face of it, especially if you are in a different sector, you may think that the FA strategy is completely different to your own. But a successful strategy for all organisations should include similar goals in terms of increasing participation/fan base/customer base; improving inclusivity and equality; how to maximise digital engagement; education or some other form of social responsibility (environmental impact, local community impact etc); regulation/administration/reputation; business income and sustainability. It is also imperative that Board’s look to the long-term future and goals of the organisation as well as the immediate priorities.

After a number of, shall we say, disappointing senior England campaigns, the FA launched its England DNA at the end of 2014. A change in philosophy with a focus on long-term success, it began a new approach to elite player development focussed on England’s youth teams from U15s through to Men’s Under-21s and Women’s Under-23s. Rather than lurching from one senior competition to the next, often with unrealistic expectations driven by the press and (fairly) frequent changes in England managers, the current DNA philosophy looks at developing from the roots upwards, and setting more realistic goals of England success for men in 2022 and women in 2023.

The FA realised that something needed to change, that the previous plan was not delivering World and European Cups back to the home of football. So, it looked outside of England, gaining inspiration from successful youth projects in France and also to the complete change of strategy by England’s old foe Germany following the 2002 World Cup. A complete change in Germany’s ethos and long term strategy took them to World Cup glory for a 4th time in 2014 following an annihilation of the hosts Brazil (7-1) in the semi-final. Hopefully, the FA’s newest strategy will deliver, highlighting the benefits of looking to outside examples and inspirations to help improve strategy.

Stakeholders & Accountability

glass for football governance

Managing stakeholders is an area that may quite often take a back seat for Boards. Where so much focus is spent on financial delivery and outcomes, it can be difficult to really analyse and account to the different stakeholder groups. Being the most popular sport in England by some margin, means having to account to a large and diverse stakeholder group. How do you best manage the expectations and needs of players, clubs, fans, officials, Government, law enforcement, schools and the great British press?

Furthermore, accountability in general can be an issue in the not-for profit sector. For a long time the FA appeared to not be particularly accountable to anyone, and this was reflected in an “outmoded structure which is not modern enough or independent enough” (according to former FA Chairman David Bernstein). Just two years ago, the Government issued a major threat to the FA, advising that if it did not urgently reform its governance structures, which it labelled “outdated and unrepresentative”, it would lose government funding (which in the region of £30-£40m per year, would have been a major issue for the FA).   Whilst working with the national sports governing bodies to draw up new sports governance codes, the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, made it clear that no governing body was too big to be excluded, meaning that the FA would lose its funding if it didn’t get its act together.

The older and more established an organisation (the FA is almost 155 years old), the easier it is for a Board to forget that it is accountable (often to more than one) key stakeholder and that listening to and managing stakeholders expectations, as in the case with the FA and Government, can be key to mitigating reputational and financial risks.

Although as commented above, there is still a way to go in terms of representation, it appears that the FA has sought to reform and modernise, and remains publicly funded for now.

Reputational Risk


If you think about all the different strands that make up the Board’s responsibilities, its main task is really Risk Management. This goes to the heart of everything that a Board does (or should do). It is about managing the risk to the organisation itself, risk to its financial health and profit margins, risk to its workforce, risk to its reputation. If a Board doesn’t effectively manage risk, the organisation will ultimately fail. We’ve already looked at a rather large risk to the FAs income above, and how it managed that risk by reviewing its governance code and structures. With such a huge public presence, the FA Board would have a significantly higher reputational risk to manage than many organisations, but at a time where everyone can be a journalist through social media, reputational risk is becoming an issue that all boards should be taking the time to look at.

Few organisations are under quite the level of scrutiny that the FA endures. Being responsible for the “beautiful game” means that pretty much every decision and error is put under the microscope. Here are some of the reputational scandals that have hit the front and back pages of the national press:

  • The sacking of Mark Sampson in 2017 as the manager of the England Women’s team for “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” with accusations of racism. The FA were criticised for the long and drawn out process leading to his dismissal as well as for the fact that they were warned about previous conduct before he was hired – highlighting the importance of having effective disciplinary procedures and looking at potential reputational risks around hiring
  • Sam Allardyce leaving the England top job after just one game after giving some ill-judged “advice” to a journalist; ­this highlights how the actions of others can have a negative impact on your organisation’s reputation. Media training and strong codes of ethics for employees could help mitigate.
  • Vote swapping – the FA were accused of making deals and offering ‘rewards’ to try to secure votes that would allow England to host the 2018 World Cup. However, important it is to secure a certain outcome for an organisation, Boards should always be aware of where to draw the line in terms of ethics and appropriate behaviour. Organisations must be value driven and aware of the effect of their behaviour on the world around them.
  • In 1999 Glenn Hoddle was sacked by the FA after he claimed that disabled people were being punished for sins committed in a previous life. Twenty years on the importance of ensuring discriminatory behaviour has no place in any organisation is as important as ever.
  • The FA have also been accused of ‘turning a blind eye’ to a reported case of sexism involving Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore – These days people and organisations can be ‘guilty by association’ and it is important that your values are at the heart of all you do and how you respond to others.

It is easy to look at past mistakes and identify what could have been done better but it is the Board’s role to ensure that risk is managed on a continuous basis, mistakes are learnt from and not repeated. Risk management, including risks to reputation must be at the forefront of a Board’s agenda.

Lessons to Learn

Having a brief look at the FA may have raised some questions about your own organisation. Whether it be about creating or amending business strategy, identifying values, ensuring diversity and equality, accountability or managing risk, Bridgehouse Company Secretaries can assist with all strands of governance. From full governance reviews looking at all of the above to assistance with organisational strategy and creating risk management frameworks, we have the governance solution for you. Please contact us to find out more.


Sources: theFA.com; msn.com 22.09.2017; talksport.com 24.03.2016; telegraph.co.uk 24.07.2016