Sport England cuts FA funding by £1.6m as participation drops

The Football Association is set to lose £1.6m of government funding because of a sharp decline in the number of people regularly playing the game.

Sport England, the body responsible for distributing government funding to grassroots sport, said the warning sends a “serious message” to the FA that it needs to reassess its participation strategy.

The FA were set to receive £30m of Sport England funding from 2013-2017 to get more people playing football, but a sharp decline in participation means that figure will now be reduced.

1.84m people currently play football once a week according to Sport England’s Active People survey – a decline of 100,000 on April 2013 and a 10% decrease on 2005 figures.

“I think this is a serious message to the FA,” Sport England chief executive Jennie Price told the BBC.

“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.”

FA general secretary Alex Horne said he was “disappointed” with the announcement, which increases the pressure on the governing body at an already challenging time.

“It’s naturally disappointing to learn that Sport England is cutting its funding to football especially at a time when the challenges faced by the grassroots of our game are so acute,” said Horne.

“It is especially disappointing as Sport England agreed and began funding our joint plan only in August last year, and today’s decision is based on measurement undertaken just two months later in October.

“It will not however deter The FA’s continued extensive financial commitment to the grassroots of the game of which this is only one element.

“The FA continues to maintain investments of a £1m-a-week back into grassroots football alone and we believe this continued commitment – which in the last year has seen growth of 1,300 new youth teams formed and playing football – will enable us to transition more young players into adult football over the next four years.

“We will of course continue to work with Sport England to understand the latest participation trends, in particular the desire for more informal and less regular formats in which to play the game.

“As the governing body it is our job to respond to these changes and to invest in programmes which meet our participants’ needs. We would obviously welcome Sport England’s continued support in this.”

The traditional 11-a-side game has been under increasing pressure in recent years, a result of a various factors including the amount of spare time that people have to play the game.

Recent FA initiatives such as Just Play or Football Mashup encourage people to get into football without a formal or long-term commitment, but Sport England wants the governing body to do more in this area.

“The FA has improved its insight into why people play football, but they now need to apply it, especially outside the traditional game, for example in the five a side market,” a statement read.

“Grassroots football remains one of our biggest participation sports, so we are looking to the FA to work on a bigger scale and at a faster pace.”

One obvious hurdle to increasing participation is the poor condition of the country’s football facilities – identified once again this month as the number one issue facing the grassroots game.

It is a challenge that FA, who recently announced plans to work with three local authorities on a new pilot facilities project, is determined to tackle alongside its partners within the game.

“Grassroots football is played on facilities almost exclusively owned and maintained by local authorities,” said Horne.

“A combination of severe weather, increased pitch hire costs and reduced maintenance spend has made this a very difficult time for clubs seeking to complete their fixtures and for individual players to value and enjoy regular football.

“This challenge – to ensure a much better provision of quality affordable grassroots facilities – is one we are determined to address.”

Sport England says that the £1.6m withdrawn from FA funding will be reinvested in other grassroots projects.

From April it will be inviting bids from cities interested in becoming a grassroots ‘City of Football’, which they say will involve “working in one place to create a whole range of new opportunities to encourage more people to play football regularly and sharing the insight with the FA to help it grow the game.”

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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  1. Alan Smith on March 27, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Times change, peoples interests change as does the spawning ground for football teams at grass roots. Adult local league football was made up in the biggest majority by teams from pubs and works. Pubs are closing and works have been closing down and as such less opportunity for teams to be formed. Local authorities are having government grants reduced therefore less money to spend on maintaining sporting facilities. Also the FA don`t help matters with their own rules and regulations forced on leagues and clubs. This has led to many volunteers packing up the administration side of football and without these people football will continue to decline.

  2. Kenneth Allen on March 27, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Perhaps, instad of the Premier League, telling us how good their product is, and started looking at football as a whole, then we might get somewhere. It is too costly to run an amateur team nowadays, and facilities, are generally poor. The Rugby Union organisation help their amateur clubs, far more than the FA does. Unless you have U18, or ladies teams, you have next to no chance of obtaining funding. The people at the top of football, only know about running a business, and nothing about football grass roots. I’m disillusioned with the lot of them. I currently referee at amateur level, and leagus only succeed despite the FA, not because of them.

  3. Mr Peter knight on March 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I sent in requesting advice on how to get funding for a football ground with flood lights etc to put football back in an area where grass roots football is very low and I was informed that this type of funding I grass root football you cannot help me with if someone would like to discuss this I am always available my mobile no is 07946758464
    Mr p knight

  4. Mr Peter knight on March 27, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I sent in requesting advice on how to get funding for a football ground with flood lights etc to put football back in an area where grass roots football is very low and I was informed that this type of funding In grass root football you cannot help me with if someone would like to discuss this I am always available my mobile no is 07946758464
    Mr p knight

  5. Steve Mahoney on March 27, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Everyone goes on about grassroots football but not enough is done.Everyone go’s on about our National team struggling.More money should be put into kids and lower league football.I run a u12s team in Walthamstow East London which is part of a big club.Maybe the over paid premier players put up some money as we know they don’t need every bit of there wages.

  6. Stuart Lustigman on March 27, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    There is no quick fix, if the decline in 11-a-side football can be fixed at all, irrespective of the amount of money that might be sunk into the game in the short term. However, the FA needs to listen to grass roots football and at the moment there is no forum for grass roots football to be heard. I have founded 2 football leagues in the last 25 years and cannot recall anytime when I have been consulted about the running of grass roots football. Indeed, the FA circulates its Standard Code of Rules which together with a whole raft of disciplinary procedures makes managing football leagues and clubs an administrative nightmare (see Alan Smith’s comments). Would you believe that my regional county association refused to sanction our league because we (the clubs in memberhip) decided that 2 points for a win was more appropriate than 3 points but the decision was taken out of our hands. It’s no wonder that some clubs prefer to participate in unaffiliated football.

  7. Tim on May 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

    It’s a real shame grassroots football funding needs to be improved on as it’s something that can only benefit us at the top level, especially when you consider how much money is floating about in the premier league. I feel some of that should be reinvested into grassroots, as that is where it all begins.

    I’m surprised that participation has gone down though, I play football every Wednesday at a Power league in Barnet, which I found through this site called

    I think if more people got involved through using sites like this to improve participation it would be hugely beneficial on the sports participation scale.

    Whilst Sports England need to put more money into grassroots, and help develop young players as as well as being good for fitness and morale, the only way young players are going to make it to the top is if we have the necessary facilities.

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