Football fans in Scotland are on their way to getting more say and sway in the way the beautiful game is run in the Northern parts of the British isles. Supporters Direct, a government-sponsored non-profit organization that helps supporter trusts in their affairs, announced that it intends to run Fans Parliament. Through it, fans will be able to voice their opinion on all pertinent football issues and ultimately influence decisions taken by governing bodies like the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League.
The new scheme is supported by the government and is championed by Henry McLeish, former First Minister of Scotland. The hopes are that the new initiative will give fans, one of the most important stakeholders in football, a stronger, more unified voice in football affairs. The Fans Parliament will cover all levels of the game, from amateur leagues to the Scottish Premier League.The program will start by running a number of roadshows to familiarize fans with the new options for involvement.
This is, of course, good news. A number of recent high profile scandals surrounding FIFA put emphasis on the complete lack of transparency and accountability at the highest level of football governance. Thus every initiative that gives fans a bigger role in decision making should be welcomed as it is likely to make the whole process more visible and fairer.
The devil is, of course, always in the details. There is little indication of how effective the new Scottish initiative will be. The name a “Fans Parliament” is catchy and certainly gives supporters a sense of importance and involvement, but in fact the vehicle is more like a regular public forum than a body with real vested powers. Fans will be able to voice their opinions and positions, but that is about it. The real impact will depend on how much existing bodies decide to listen.
The effectiveness of the new parliament will also heavily depend on the ability of different supporter groups to reconcile their differences and really speak with a unified voice. After all, football fans are biased by design and it isn’t straightforward that they will be able to work with other fans, especially when there is often so much separating two groups like it is in the case of Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.
Supporters Direct and McLeish are naturally upbeat at this early stage. The first step is always the most important, but they do have a lot of work ahead of them if the Fans Parliament is to become a truly relevant vehicle for supporter involvement. How well they cope with the challenges will also likely determine if the initiative can serve as a model to be adopted in other countries as well. Fans in Germany and Spain already enjoy some strong positions in policy debates; however supporter involvement in football affairs is definitely not widespread around the globe. If it bears success in Scotland, it could be easily replicated.
Overall, the Fans Parliament is a very worthy initiative. After all, at the professional levels football exists because of the fans. They are the ones who invest significant amounts of emotions and finances into the beautiful game. It is only logical that they deserve to have an active role in the way their favorite sports is managed and organized.
The Scottish initiative does face a lot of difficulties. Every football fan around the world should be cheering that it is successful so that it can be multiplied in other countries around the world. Then, with time, supporters might even get to be heard in the Ivory Towers of FIFA. Now that would be one very unlikely victory.