14 May 2024


Women in Football has this week submitted evidence to the House of Commons' general committee as it scrutinises the Football Governance Bill. Our contribution is reproduced below.

After the committee reports back to the Commons, the bill will undergo a third reading before passing to the House of Lords. Once approved by the Lords, the bill receives royal assent and passes into law.

Dear Committee,

Football Governance Bill (“the Bill”) – submission of written evidence by Women in Football

We would be grateful if you would accept this letter from Women in Football as our written evidence to the Committee about the Bill.   
About Women in Football

Women in Football is the leading advocacy group for women involved in football. Our vision is of a football industry where everyone can thrive and reach their full potential, and we work tirelessly with our members and partners to bring about the change in football that we all want to see. Our remit covers all of football, and we campaign for better diversity and inclusion across the entire football industry (thus we are not a ‘women’s football’ organisation per se).

Our 9,500 individual members (79% of whom are UK-based) are women, men and non-binary people who work in every corner of the football industry. We work with our members to give them the skills they need to thrive in their football careers through our highly regarded courses, webinars, content and connections.

We also engage widely with the football industry. Our corporate members include the Premier League, the EFL, Sky Sports, and three Premier League football clubs, to name but some. We work with these organisations to pursue our shared vision of a truly diverse and inclusive football industry. In addition, our #GetOnside campaign asks football to pledge to take action to change the landscape for women and girls in the game. Fully funded masters degrees, paid internships, financial support to grassroots clubs, mentoring, shadowing opportunities: you can read the full list of the incredible #GetOnside pledges made in answer to our call to action to the industry here.

While this letter has been sent on behalf of the board of directors of Women in Football, it has been shaped by the professional experience of its two signatories:

  • Yvonne Harrison is Women in Football’s CEO. She is in regular dialogue with our members via initiatives such as our events programme and our member surveys. As such, Yvonne can speak with authority on behalf of women in the game and about what our network – one of the biggest in football – thinks, feels and needs.
  • Jane Purdon’s career includes being Director of Governance of the Premier League (where Jane was employed from 2005 to 2015), where she had a role in designing the Owners’ and Directors’ Test and in its administration. Then, while at UK Sport (2015 to 2018), Jane co-authored the first edition of the Code for Sports Governance with Sport England.


Purpose of our written evidence 
Given the remit and work of Women in Football, this written evidence will only address matters relating to equality, diversity and inclusion in connection with the Bill. There are three specific matters we will address:

  • the proposed Governance Code of Practice
  • the impact of the Owners’ and Officers’ Test
  • how the CEO of the Independent Football Regulator will be recruited 


The proposed Governance Code of Practice 
 Schedule 5, paragraph 7 of the Bill requires the Independent Football Regulator (“the IFR”) to prepare and publish a code of practice about the corporate governance of regulated clubs (“the Code”). Paragraph 7 (2) defines ‘corporate governance’ for these purposes as follows:

“Corporate governance”, in relation to a club, includes —  
 (a) the nature, constitution or functions of the organs of the club,  
 (b) the manner in which the organs of the club conduct themselves,  
 (c) the requirements imposed on organs of the club, and  
 (d) the relationship between different organs of the club.”  

There is no indication the Code will contain any provisions about diversity.  

Women and other demographic groups remain significantly under-represented in football’s leadership and workforce. Statistics show that on average in Premier League football clubs, just 10% of the board is female and for the EFL Championship, the average was 5% (Farrer & Co, Women in Sport). Additionally, data from CIES Sports Intelligence highlighted that out of the 119 Premier League club directors, 10% were women and that just half of Premier League clubs in the 2022–23 season had at least one female board director.

As the government’s White Paper on football governance states, clubs are failing to meet the targets of the FA’s Football Leadership Diversity Code across race and gender. And yet there are strong indications that the government does not propose to include diversity provisions in the Code. Its response to the White Paper consultation (September 2023) indicated that the government appears to have reiterated its position to “support and encourage clubs to improve and promote EDI” and promised “continued engagement across the football leagues, the FA and civil society organisations to discuss progress”.

Our submission is that we need to move on from ‘encouragement’ and ‘engagement’, because outcomes are already clear: targets are not being met and not enough is changing at sufficient pace. Support, encouragement, and engagement will not shift the dial – not just on gender but on other measures of diversity too.

A ‘Governance Code of Practice’ that does not address diversity would be a strange outlier. The following governance codes all mandate diversity at board level (and sometimes beyond):

  • G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance
  • UK Corporate Governance Code
  • Wates Code of governance for large private companies
  • UK Code for Sports Governance
  • Charity Governance Code

Indeed, it may be impossible to find a governance code that does not include similar provisions. And yet there is no guarantee that the Code proposed under this legislation will do so, and some evidence to suggest that the government intends to omit it.

If so, then instead of presenting a unified, whole-club vision of corporate governance, the proposed Code will be incomplete, with the risk of lessening trust and credibility in it and in the IFR generally, as well as maintaining the current slow pace of change.

Women in Football’s Open Doors Agenda may assist. It contains a blueprint for baseline governance best practice in sports bodies. While developed in response to a) events last year in the Spanish Football Federation, and b) the FIFA President’s invitation to women to tell him what they want as his ‘door is open’, the following provisions from it are relevant to football clubs:

  • Clear targets for diverse decision-making bodies, with timescales for achievement. As an initial step, this should include a target of at least 30 per cent of members of these bodies to be women, together with a commitment to progress to gender parity
  • Senior decision-makers to be recruited by transparent, inclusive processes and boards to include independent, non-executive members
  • Policies and sanctions against discrimination, abuse, inappropriate physical contact and sexual harassment with clear reporting pathways
  • Fit-for-purpose safeguarding and duty of care policies and responsibilities, including mechanisms to ensure that players’ voice is heard

We therefore request that the Committee considers an amendment to Schedule 7 to ensure that the Code contains provisions regarding diversity. As noted, helpful precedents can be found in Women in Football’s Open Doors Agenda and in the governance codes referred to above. 
The impact of the Owners’ and Officers’ Test

This test will apply to ‘senior managers’. On the Bill’s current drafting, this term appears to be very widely defined and we are concerned about some of the impacts of this from an equality perspective.

The effect of section 4 of the Bill is that someone is a ‘senior manager’ if (among other things), they are responsible for ‘managing one or more aspects of the club’s affairs’ which might involve ‘a risk of serious consequences for the club’. It includes someone who takes part in decision-making about such an aspect of the club’s affairs. We can think of a host of roles with a football club to whom this might apply, for example:

  • A sports science/medical professional (such as a physiotherapist) carrying out pre-signing medical checks on a key incoming player
  • A member of the club’s in-house legal team advising on an aspect of an important commercial contract
  • A coach with lead responsibility for coaching a younger age group, in a club where the academy plays a critical role in its strategy. This individual is likely, for example, to input into decisions about retain/release, and how coaching should be carried out
  • A communications professional who takes part in the decision-making about the club’s media and communications strategy, a critical area of the club’s business where there is a risk of reputational and even financial damage if the club ‘gets it wrong’ 

All of the above examples (a key transfer, an important contract, managing the talent pipeline in the academy, and the club’s media and comms strategy) are areas that, if they go wrong, have ‘a risk of serious consequences for the club’. What is more, the ‘advice in a professional capacity’ exception in section 4(3) does not seem to apply: in reality, these roles will extend beyond purely technical advice and include both management responsibility and the requirement to discuss matters fully and freely with colleagues as part of the decision-making process. (It seems to us that section 4(3) was drafted to exclude from the test external professional advisers – some clarity is needed here.) 

We note that the IFR will have a statutory obligation to determine whether any new such member of staff is ‘suitable’ (section 29), i.e. whether they have ‘the requisite honesty and integrity’, ‘the requisite competence’, and are ‘financially sound’ (section 26). The IFR will have to do this before they take up employment. This is potentially going to apply to thousands of people in respect of whom the IFR will have to assess honesty, competence and financial soundness before they take up employment. We query the policy benefits behind this wide scope and reach.  

Be that as it may, we are confining ourselves in this letter to matters impacting on equality, diversity and inclusion, and there is one aspect of the provisions concerning ‘senior managers’ that is extremely concerning. Clubs will be required to publish a personnel statement listing their ‘senior managers’ among others (section 51(5). As noted above, this may extend down a club’s management structures into middle or even junior management.  These people will all have to have their names published to the world.  

We are extremely concerned that in the current climate of online abuse, bullying and harassment, this could impact people doing these roles and in particular deter women, and other under-represented groups who are vulnerable to such behaviour, from entering or continuing in the football workforce.

While our main point is that this test goes too far and should be revisited, we request that at the very least provision is made for people to apply to keep their names off any public disclosure where they have good reason to do so. Think for example of victims of domestic violence, stalking or harassment who have relocated and who wish there to be as little public information as possible about where they now work and live.

We note that an impact assessment of this bill has been carried out. The Equality section of this does not address this issue. We respectfully suggest that this is revisited in order to determine what public interest is served by such wide-ranging publication of the identities of club staff balanced against what harm this may do and that all resultant amendments to the Bill are made.


The appointment of the IFR CEO

Paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 states that the IFR’s Chief Executive Officer ‘is to be appointed by the Chair’. The Chair must ‘consult’ the Secretary of State and the non-executive members of the board.

We consider that this does not represent best recruitment practice. Many governance codes state the need for a formal, rigorous and transparent procedure for senior hires, and the UK Corporate Governance Code stresses the importance of using senior appointments and succession plans to promote diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity. There is a risk that no matter how well-meaning an individual, and even with an obligation to ‘consult’, they may have very human blind spots (as do we all). One of the best mitigations against this is collective decision-making, and hence the usual requirement in most companies is that the board, not the chair alone, hires the CEO.

We therefore recommend that this provision for how the CEO is to be recruited is amended to align with governance best practice.


Closing remarks

Jane Purdon, one of the signatories of this letter, will be giving evidence before the Committee on Tuesday 14 May and this presents an opportunity for the Committee to explore these issues further. Outside of this, we remain at your disposal should the Committee have any questions or require any further information from us.


Yours sincerely

Yvonne Harrison
CEO, Women in Football

Jane Purdon 
Ambassador and consultant, Women in Football 

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