wsc302 Football charities and voluntary organisations are struggling to survive in the face of austerity, writes Alex Lawson

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that by 2016 the voluntary sector will lose £911 million in public funding. The age of austerity is already having a major effect on grassroots football. The UK’s sporting charities are remarkably fragmented – the likes of the Football Foundation and Football Aid represent the larger organisations in a pyramid featuring professional clubs’ charitable arms, corporate philanthropic projects, small-scale grassroots organisations and long-standing local government initiatives.

Community football initiatives range from the Liverpool Homeless League’s work to improve the lives and health of local youth-hostel inhabitants, to Woking Minders’ help with mental-health issues and substance abuse. Money is needed across the UK to create pitches, erect goals and build changing facilities for young players. On the surface, funding options are plentiful. Cash is available to football bodies from the Big Lottery Fund, the Premier League, the FA, local councils and multinational charities. The funds are drying up quickly, however, as sports minister Hugh Robertson is directing time and resources to this summer’s Olympics.

The Football Foundation, which funds more than 1,500 community schemes from a pot of £40m a year, is having its funding reduced as a result of the cuts. This a major blow for an organisation that has received more than 7,500 grants worth £420m in its 11-year history and benefits from matched-funding from the FA and Premier League for every pound it spends.

London Tigers, a charity that has provided health and educational support to the Bangladeshi community for the past 25 years and features Mayor of London Boris Johnson as its patron, is facing extinction. The organisation received £762,370 in funding last year. This figure has since plummeted, forcing founder Mesba Ahmed to slash his 40-strong staff and run the charity alone.

“I do not know what the government think they are doing. Do they just think they are going to blink and community issues will disappear? Some of the people that we work with are the most disadvantaged, from low income families and deprived local neighbourhoods. We could have David Beckham come down here and take lots of nice photos with him. That’s great, but to run a community football club you need money.”

Ahmed’s story is a familiar one. The cuts website False Economy reports that Aston FC, the East Hampshire Sports Council and Macclesfield Town’s community initiative were among many to have funding cut completely last year. It does not end there. The Federation of Stadium Communities uses matchday protest marches in the Midlands to publicise issues that may improve the lives of those who live near stadiums in the region. It recorded a £27,598 loss last year and chief executive Judy Crabb believes planning for the future is almost impossible.

The National Children’s Football Alliance director, Ernie Brennan, believes the cuts could benefit a sector that misdirects its efforts in competing too hard for a small pot of cash. “The most frustrating aspect of cutbacks is that the larger charities continue to ignore the fantastic work done by smaller charities.” Brennan thinks a “divide and rule” culture has allowed larger, well-connected bodies to take the lion’s share of funding – meaning consolidation of the number of charities is the most viable option.

The general public is struggling give to charity, while the number of donations from private corporations has deteriorated since the start of the recession. The effects of reduced resources are widespread, not least among the 13 million people in the UK who live in poverty and for whom even buying a kit is a stretch. Ultimately, the number of kids getting the chance to become professional footballers may decrease as charities that tackle poor health, increasing crime rates and rising unemployment are closed down.

From WSC 302 April 2012

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