A UEFA-funded study could lead Supporters Direct UK to extend to the rest of Europe its work in advising fans on getting involved in the running of their clubs.
Following a recommendation in the Independent European Sport Review, UEFA asked the umbrella organisation of football trusts in the UK, Supporters Direct, to investigate the feasibility of extending its work across the remainder of UEFA's member national associations.
The feasibility study, begun in July 2007, resulted in the report that was presented to UEFA at a meeting between fan representatives and President Michel Platini, General Secretary David Taylor and other UEFA officials in Nyon, Switzerland, on 23 February.
The study – What is the feasibility of a Supporters Direct Europe? – found, among its conclusions, that there is a demand for services similar to those provided by Supporters Direct UK; and that a Supporters Direct Europe could enhance the contribution fans make to the wider agenda of ensuring that clubs are financially stable, by ensuring they conform to good governance.
Supporters Direct then received a further grant from UEFA to assess how it can give practical assistance to satisfy the demand the report identifies. It is already helping groups in 13 countries.
The chief executive of Supporters Direct UK, Dave Boyle, said the study "will not only help fans but be of real value to policy-makers and we are very grateful for the support provided by UEFA to help us produce it. It is clear there are many common themes in the ambitions fans across Europe have in wanting to become more involved in how their clubs are owned and run, and more important than the advice we give them is the help they can give each other."
The study, conducted over 12 months and covering 46 countries, offers an overview of the environment in which fan groups exist, reaching from the governance of the game by governing bodies, and the ownership and governance structures of football clubs, to the diversity of fan culture in each country. Six countries in particular, each conditioned by distinct legal and cultural factors, represented a geographical spread as well as a compromise between the goals of the project and the available resources – Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Why a Supporters Direct Europe?
Answering the question 'Why a Supporters Direct Europe?', the report explained that a central body would help to make more focused and resilient the efforts of fan groups which are inherently volunteer-led. It could also help set standards for fan groups in areas of governance and accountability and help ensure they do not become unrepresentative, especially of extreme or violent political opinion; that standard should always be bona-fide supporters committed to democracy, accountability, non-violence and non-discrimination. A Supporters Direct Europe could also assist the fight against violence and racism by building a sense of involvement and ownership among fans.
In addition, it would serve the interests of, and benefit from, supporters who are often acutely conscious of the fact that good governance off the pitch usually accompanies better performances on it.
Importance of dialogue
As part of the study, UEFA also surveyed its own members – with the majority opinion among national associations being that dialogue between supporters and associations, or between fans and clubs, is worth improving because it enables supporters to become more serious and responsible partners. UEFA believes such dialogue better reflects the nature of football as a game with a variety of stakeholders whose views need to be considered.
Wider policy agenda
With fan groups keen to see the initiative continue, a Supporters Direct Europe – as an independent and credible movement owned by and responsible to those it works with – would therefore advance dialogue between partners for the good of the game. By supporting this, possibly as part of a new European fan federation, UEFA would also be taking a lead as part of a wider policy agenda of improving governance of fan groups and football clubs, and tackling some of the problems affecting the sport.
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