The title of this post is a little provocative after what has happened but the key phrase is long-term.

There is a lot of pain and sadness at the moment after the shameful actions of The English FA which haave negatively impacted current participation opportunities and growth as well as damaged the image of the sport.

I feel very sorry for all those female players that, after years of being brushed off with the excuse that the women’s game wasn’t ready for a national team, finally had a commitment from The English FA to form a team for the next UEFA Women’s Futsal Euro (Note that the same condition never applied to the men’s game and it was the creation of an England team that initiated its development).

They missed the entry deadline for the Euros last year but since then The English FA have delivered another blow to female participants by reneging completely on their promise to form a national team.

I am bitterly disappointed for the 60 or so players in the men’s national team programme who have had their international careers cut short. It was carried out in such a heartless and cruel manner, without any transition support which is an obligation under their duty of care, by the organisation they had represented to the best of their ability over many years.

What I have found most upsetting in relation to the national teams is that so many young girls and boys, many I have met, have had their dreams of representing their country ripped away from them. We will not give up fighting until their right to have those ambitions is restored.

The people who won’t be affected by these callous decisions are those that have responsibility for them in The English FA. They will still receive their perks, their ‘prestigious’ positions will not be threatened (unless their views of marginalised groups are blurted out in public) and they will continue to proudly wear their blazers with the accompanying arrogance of people who know they are untouchable.

This is all very heartbreaking for our tight knit community and should never have been allowed to happen.

But where I gain consolation is that the reaction it has caused in the English futsal community will put the game in a better place for its long-term future.

A Change Has Come

We all received a wake-up call about the role our FA can play in futsal.

We had blindly followed them expecting a vision, leadership and direction.

We waited and waited, hoping tomorrow it would finally arrive.

The Fast Forward with Futsal Strategy offered hope but the lack of visible progress afterwards left us underwhelmed.

It has taken a scandal with the magnitude of the virtual abandonment of futsal by our FA accompanied by an unacceptable lack of transparency, consultation and financial integrity to shock us out of our trance.

The English FA has never had neither the capability or the desire to provide us with the national leadership to develop and grow futsal.

New Leadership

The responsibility, therefore, falls on the futsal community to step up and deliver the vision and leadership the sport has so long and desperately needed.

They have the capacity to do it. Those in the English FA have taken little interest in our sport. They don’t have the experience or understanding that is in the futsal community and nor did they access it through seriously considering their views.

The English futsal community are involved in the game day to day. They encounter the problems up close which is essential to identify the right solutions. They see the opportunities which provides the motivation to put in the effort. They have the shared circumstances that aligns interests.

But who in this diverse community will provide that leadership?

I believe the clubs are best placed as the group that connects players, fans and competitions.

Football understood long ago what futsal has now realised; That the governing body with its not fit for purpose governance, incompetent senior management and lack of stakeholder engagement, is incapable of leading.

It was clubs that led the growth of football. The professional clubs run the top football leagues and the grassroots clubs provide the participation opportunities.

But co-operation is key for this to work. In the Premier League clubs all get one vote on major decisions and they need a two thirds majority to make changes.

The North American professional sports leagues have been world leading because of their superior co-operation. Instead of each team keeping it’s own revenues, they share them among the entire league. This heavily incentivises teams to work together and share best practice making each other stronger.

A league’s strength is the strength of all its individual clubs added together. A club’s potential is limited by the strength of their league. Therefore, it is in each club’s interest that the rest get stronger.

One of the Premier League’s main success factors is that collective revenues are shared more evenly than rival competitions so the difference between the weakest and strongest teams is smaller.

The lack of leadership by The English FA has resulted in a failure to unite the futsal clubs behind a vision and plan they could believe in. They were incapable of convincing them that working together and co-operation was for their benefit.

Instead, clubs on the whole felt it necessary to act in their self-interest in order to survive and develop. There was no distinction between rivalry on the pitch and rivalry off the pitch.

The legacy of the English FA’s leadership is a lack of trust throughout the community.

It is for the reasons above that I was so enthused when I read the announcement about The English Futsal Clubs Association (ECFA). They aim to facilitate collaboration by bringing the clubs together under one body in a democratic structure. This is the beginning of the clubs grasping the initiative to fill the leadership vacuum.

Leadership

Effective leadership requires empathy, collaboration and compromise. Changing this embedded culture of mistrust won’t happen with one selfless act but those being continually repeated to the point where it becomes the norm, where selfish behaviour stands out and is rejected by the community.

Of course, The English FA are not to blame for all the problems of futsal in the country. The clubs, on the whole, have to be run better, become self-sustainable and grow the game in their local communities. A club association can support this work.

I envision the ECFA providing a platform to share knowledge. A club with a very successful academy model can educate the other clubs how they’ve done it. When a club builds a venue then they can present their project to the rest so they can replicate their achievement

There can be workshops that also bring external experts in offer their knowledge. This concept of sharing best practice and networking was behind the Futsal Insights conferences but with an initiative like the ECFA this can be done on a much bigger scale.

Stronger, better organised clubs acting together will develop the sport and build the size of our community so we gain more power and leverage in the wider sporting landscape.

Another role the ECFA can fulfill is providing a more constructive forum than social media or messaging groups to debate relevant issues.

In a culture of co-operation, everyone fully committs to collective decisions even if they are not their preferred option, as long as all views have been considered and the decision was democratic.

Futsal will progress more rapidly when everyone is going in the same direction, even if it is not necessarily the optimal solution being followed.

The perspectives of the clubs on crucial issues can be shared through a united voice that is so much more powerful and persuasive.

We have seen the impact of a united voice from the England men’s team coming together to stand against the English FA’s decisions. Between us we have many opinions and discussions but externally we presented one message.

We had people trying to silence us or just not support us as they feared change and a loss of power (this is The English FA’s playbook to counter criticism that has similarly been applied with racism) but we stayed strong to focus on the objectives.

Despite still being a niche sport, by being united we gained more coverage for futsal than it has ever had before. We have featured in The Times, The Sun, Sky Sports News, BBC Sport website as well as on BBC News and TalkSport radio across the UK and other platforms locally and internationally.

We have had several MPs and Lord Peers ask questions to The English FA (their response was to regurgitate parts of their original 275-word announcement, their only public acknowledgement to date of such controversial decisions as they’ve not allowed themselves to be openly questioned on them).

Although The English FA’s hubris means they never contemplate admitting they too make mistakes, they are now aware that futsal is a much more important sport than when they took those decisions. I would expect they are more cautious about bullying us in the future as a result.

Dual Governance

The English FA’s recent decisions and long-standing disregard for futsal has brought the debate about futsal departing football’s governance under the spotlight. Some people who were previously keen supporters of theirs now want to sever the relationship.

Joining a much more established and powerful sport’s governance system has meant futsal being secondary. Decisions are made dependent on their impact on football, regardless of their effect on our sport. The English FA’s reasons for cutting funding for futsal was to focus on England winning major football trophies.

I’m sceptical that reallocating one of their smallest budgets to already well funded teams has being the missing piece in them winning something, or even reaching a final, in the last 50 years. Maybe it is actually the contrary, their neglect of the grassroots to focus on the elite. This highlights their lack of strategic thinking and ability to lead.

I know in many countries futsal is not working well under football’s governance but there are cases where it is. In the end, although it is a peculiar situation to have two sport’s under the same governance, futsal at least has to have representation within the organisations so that it can protect its interests.

Currently in England, futsal has virtually no influence with recent decisions being a demonstration of that. This is unlikely to change as even pressure to reform over decades from the British government has had little impact within The English FA which is a law unto itself.

The sad fact is in England we’re still fighting for the most basic concept that our FA regard futsal as a sport rather than solely a supplementary tool that can help football players.

So, I see the rational argument for discontinuing with football governance but I am still unsure whether the alternative is better for the sport.

Undeniably, since the football authorities took over futsal governance in the 1980s the game has grown immensely. The unknown is how this would have compared had futsal remained independent. We can’t judge today’s futsal under AMF, the futsal equivalent of FIFA, without considering the impact FIFA’s futsal has had on disrupting its growth.

Whilst the English FA can’t provide leadership, they do have the structures in place to fulfil routine responsibilities in terms of administrative support such as overseeing registrations, safeguarding policies and disciplinary procedures.

If there was another option that could manage these responsibilities and offer investment then there would be a more convincing argument (I take the point that you need to start to progress to this stage).

Another factor to consider is that FIFA and UEFA tournaments are much more attractive currently than their equivalents in AMF. If I look at it from this perspective, I want England men’s and women’s teams to be part of these (still no FIFA Women’s World Cup 31 years after the men’s edition).

The English FA hold the exclusive right to enter teams into these competitions and have refused to allow us participation even if funding was sourced that would mean zero cost to The English FA (which doesn’t align with their claim that their attack on futsal was partly because of financial issues).

Why The English FA would not permit this when the only outcome for them would be the positive of being represented in international competitions I’ll leave for you to decide.

There is no perspective that doesn’t reach the conclusion that it is completely unfair and, not only should The English FA reconsider their position, but UEFA and FIFA should also be pressuring them as it is bringing their competitions into disrepute. I also hope empowered and unified clubs will provide additional pressure going forward.

Whichever path is taken, it must be taken solely what is best for futsal and not any loyalty to the football authorities who have shown, on the whole, little loyalty or respect to us.

I don’t buy the established sport governing bodies rhetoric that believe they have a divine right to govern no matter how bad a job they do. They try to protect their dominance by attacking people who question finding other solutions, using language such as “rebel” and “breakaway” and applying unenforceable bans.

Inevitably, The English FA will one day take an interest in futsal, as it becomes more established and a more financially attractive proposition. They will attempt to regain a leadership position.

But futsal will be wiser about their capabilities and, unlike now, they will have nothing to offer that futsal doesn’t already have. It will be strong, self-sufficient and moving in the right direction.

Diversity of Opinion

These topics generate strong feelings as we all care so deeply about the future of the game. We have experienced how it can benefit people’s lives and offers incredible memories, experiences and opportunities. We want to share this with others.

The views in this blog have always been about offering perspectives that are based on deep analysis and considered thought. My hope is they contribute to your own thinking by considering a different view rather than aiming to convince you.

Diversity of thought makes us stronger and this is why I always encourage comments below so that I can develop my own opinions and learn from others’ experiences.

All of us in the futsal community should be allowed to provide our input and this approach should be the foundation for our journey going forward.

Futsal is so engaging and our community so well-equipped and passionate that I strongly believe it will blossom in England and this dark period will be looked back upon positively as a turning point in its history.

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  1. Kevin Bryant
    Reply

    Excellently constructed article. Demands an excellently constructed response, but I want hold my breath.
    Key phrase you have used is ‘unfit for purpose’. Same conclusion I came to 20 years ago when I attended original ‘futsal committee meetings. 20 years is an awful long time to fail. That said tens of thousands are playing futsal every week, part deliberately not recorded by FA. Why?
    Local MP’s are a great way to force change, I’m aware that some have picked up baton as they realise vast sums of public money are not being accounted for or shared fairly.
    How does anyone contact FA Staff and ‘Jackets’ that are allegedly working for us? There are no contact points on FA website. Ask a question on the automated message system and nobody replies? ‘Not fit for purpose’ under estimates the problem.
    Bizarrely I to am optimistic for futsal long term future.

    • Doug Reed
      Reply

      Thanks Kevin.

      After 20 years of being aware of the problem, would be interesting to know if you think this is a turning point or we’ll continue the same going forward?

      The point you raise about the data is very interesting. Is it carelessness or a deliberate attempt not to show the growing popularity of the sport?

      The fact they don’t properly engage with their communities is reflected in my comments about being untouchable and law unto themselves. They do as they wish with a disregard for the views of those they are supposed to serve.

  2. Mark Crane
    Reply

    Another excellent article Doug.

    This problem has brewing for some time and I agree with you that much wider recognition of the root cause of English fusal’s problem (a useless and damaging governing body structure) is the silver lining to the currently rather dark cloud.

    Sport England’s “A Code for Sports Governance”, which the FA is obliged to follow, states: “Organisations shall be transparent and accountable, engaging effectively with stakeholders and nurturing internal democracy.” Unfortunately, the FA’s governance of futsal fulfils none of these criteria. It has, instead, delegated futsal governance to a subcommittee that is unelected by futsal stakeholders, and which refuses to publish agendas or minutes, or consult with the futsal community.

    I would therefore urge anyone interested in putting pressure on the FA to sort out their futsal governance to email Sport England with their concerns. Their Chief Executive, Nick Bitel, can be contacted at: nick.bitel@sportengland.org

    • Doug Reed
      Reply

      Thanks Mark.

      Any governing body that receives public funding from Sport England, such as The FA, is supposed to abide by the code you mention but this The FA is clearly not despite receiving millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money each year.

      They don’t even abide by the requirements in their own guide on governance for clubs.

      In there it states “an effective Executive Body will provide good governance and leadership through”;
      “Listening and responding to the views of stakeholders”, taking decisions after “the Executive Body has adequately informed itself and is basing its decision on a range of data and information that provides sound understanding of all relevant factors” and the executive body “take accountability for their decisions”.

      They have failed in all of these areas when it comes to the recent decision on funding cuts for futsal.

      However, they carry on regardless!

  3. Mark Crane
    Reply

    I agree Doug.

    It’s important to be clear, as I think you were in the blog article, that this is a structural problem and not just the fault of a few misguided individuals. Changing one set of individuals for another therefore won’t solve the problem.

    Social psychology teaches that most people become quite rapidly “socialised” within the organisations they join and then tend towards a version of groupthink. If you put this together with the well known phenomenon of “recruitment in my own image” and a monopolistic organisation with few or no competitive pressures on its behaviour then you are likely to end up with the accountability problems we see with FA governance.

    The solution to this is the introduction of a direct democratic link between the decision making body and the stakeholders directly affected by their decisions. Only then will that body be compelled to make decisions with transparency and accountability, irrespective of the individuals who sit on it.

    From a practical point of view this could easily be achieved by the FA if they did three simple things:

    1. Reform the FA Futsal Committee (which is the de facto NGB of futsal within the FA) so that a majority of its members are directly elected by FA-affiliated futsal clubs and then serve a fixed term before standing for re-election;

    2. Require the Futsal Committee to publish agendas and minutes of all its meetings; and

    3. Ensure operational and financial independence for the Futsal Committee within overall FA governance guidelines.

    This would mean that FA governance of futsal complied fully with Sport England requirements for transparency, accountability, stakeholder engagement, and internal democracy.

    • J D
      Reply

      It is a nonsense that the Sports England Code for Governance document is not mandatory, although the tiers it defines contain mandatory requirements.

      If, as is apparently the case, Sports England funding is paid to The FA, then The FA must held accountable to The Code. Even the lowest Tier 1 requirements demand way more transparency, representitive structure and accountability than The FA satisfy. As custodians of public funds, Sports England has a duty to hold all beneficiaries to The Code, otherwise funds granted on the basis of underpinning much greater long term voluntary investment of personal time and energy could easily end up being spent on making good commercial losses on Wembley.

      Just by holding The FA accountable to the most basic Tier 1 requirements of The Code, it would be possible to find out the realities of Futsal Finances and Governance.

  4. Brad Ennis
    Reply

    Hi Doug,

    I would like to say that all of us from the University of Winchester Futsal Club feel this struggle just as much as you do. We have players with ambitions to go above and beyond (one or two may have crept into a professional team) yet the glooming doubt of the pandemic and the ‘financial crisis’ that the FA are in have severely stunted our growth. The society was founded 5 years ago with a mere 10-15 people. Last year, we had 7 teams with around 12 players per team. Not to mention the social members who loved coming to watch our games. Our passion for the sport is crazy and the negative approach and neglect that the sport is receiving is fatal. If I we’re to have an opinion on the future of futsal in the UK, I would use this article as the epitome.

    I have only been in this sport for 4 years now and I have absolutely loved every single minute of it. The sport provides more exhilarating moments than 11 a side, more passion, higher energy levels and more goals. We love it.

    In my opinion, a whole new NGB would be ideal for driving futsal out of the shadows from football, take away the aura that futsal is just ‘5 a side football’, pump more attention to where it is needed most and provide support and vital connections to the clubs that work tirelessly to create a fun and enjoyable environment with avenues to success. I have met people from other universities and they all seem to share the same passion and love for the game. This has been replicated with some of the futsal clubs I have come across, they seem to be growing so fast and numbers are higher than ever.

    Another aspect I’m sure you’re fond of is the overseas model and structure to futsal which should really be implemented into the UK. There are few published journal articles and studies conducted into this and think there is a strong foundation to work on here.

    As always, keep up the good work. You are doing a great job for the sport!

    • Doug Reed
      Reply

      Thanks Brad. Really appreciate your comments.

      Sorry to hear what is happening at Winchester after you’ve made so much progress. I hope your passion will fuel you all to keep fighting and the society becomes stronger than ever.

      You’re speaking to the converted when you mention your 4 years in the sport!

      I think you make a good argument about how to develop the sport.

      Hope we cross paths post pandemic and you’ll be able to tell me how futsal is continuing to grow in the university.

      All the best.

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