§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kirkhope.]8.22 pm
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
I rise to address a packed Chamber at what I would normally describe as a late hour, but tonight I have to describe it as a ridiculously early hour. Hansard would pick up my lie if I said that it was late when in fact it is particularly early. I know that that is welcome to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I do not wish to extend the debate until 10.30 pm, as I could do if I wished. I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that, although I intend to take a little time, I do not intend to take as much as that.
I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls) is present, as I know that a constituent of his has a problem similar to the one that I am about to describe. I hope that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey), who is concerned about issues relating to this, will also be able to speak if I finish early.
I wish to examine the position in which a constituent of mine finds himself, and to highlight a major problem in the way in which the Football Association conducts itself. An intolerable trading environment has led to a complete lack of free market—not a position that I would expect the Government to support. The Football Association has two positions simultaneously: it is both poacher and gamekeeper, watchdog and profit-maker. It can exclude people from the marketplace, while at the same time entering that marketplace to promote its own products, which may or may not have sponsorship.
Oddly enough, I have received a large amount of post since I took up the matter and secured this Adjournment debate. I confess that I was surprised by the interest engendered by something as small as an Adjournment debate among ordinary people around the country and others involved in businesses. They have written to me drawing attention to difficulties faced by those who want to get their products into the marketplace but are forced to abandon their objective because of the intransigence of the Football Association.
My constituent, Steve Aldridge, received the UK patent for a game called Futbolito—a mini-football game—in 1989. The concept comes from South America, and has been used there. Having seen the game, I believe that it provides a stepping stone to the real game of soccer, giving children basic skills and an understanding of all the necessary features of the game. It is played by small teams using small goals that can be set up outside in limited environments such as playgrounds, or even on playing fields.
In 1989, my constituent contacted the Football Association to ask for consideration to develop the mini-football game for the benefit of the national game. He was told by the FA's director of coaching, Mr. Charles Hughes, that pursuing the project could be of no particular value to the FA; that was after some examination of it. My constituent, however, continued to believe that there was a genuine need and demand for the game, and went on to launch Futbolito in 1992.
In April 1992, my constituent received a letter from the FA saying that it was going to launch mini-soccer, which would be the only—I stress the word "only"—approved game for youngsters in the six to 11 age range. The game 97 was to be sponsored by Coca-Cola, which I think sets the matter in a slightly larger perspective. Coca-Cola also promoted and sponsored the national soccer show in 1993, at Birmingham's national exhibition centre.
Interestingly, one of the problems encountered by my constituent was the fact that both he and his product Futbolito were prevented from being present. He gathered later on, and I have discovered, that Coca-Cola wanted the mini-football that it had sponsored to have exclusive rights at the event. Only after it withdrew its sponsorship did the organisers tell my constituent that he could demonstrate his game and attend the show. My constituent's problems continue—a catalogue of problems, which illustrate the fact that the FA has a tremendous amount of power. It seems that, with just a nod and a wink, it can restrict the possibilities for people such as my constituent to pursue their rightful business interests.
Despite oral and written approvals of my constituent's teaching and coaching aid by FIFA, and an oral approval of the equipment by the English Schools Football Association, the Referees Association and others such as the Bobby Charlton soccer school, the FA still denies approval for the product. The irony is that in many discussions the ESFA gave my constituent plenty of assistance, expressing the view orally that the equipment was perfectly all right and that it hoped that he would receive FA approval. In trying to secure written approval from the English Schools Football Association, my constituent wrote some 20 letters, but the association did not reply. It was happy to talk on the telephone, but it never put anything in writing. I suggest that that indicates a certain fear of what might happen should it break the line and state in writing that it considered the product good.
My constituent has never sought sponsorship or other finance from the FA. He really only wants approval for his game, so that he can go out and compete with other products in the market. The only product that is FA approved at present happens also to be the FA's product.
Since being denied the FA's approval, Mr. Aldridge has been virtually put out of business. Were it not for his tenacious attitude in making the project work, by now he would have gone under. He has been invited to demonstrate his product at certain venues, in particular at the start of a football match in Yeovil in August 1992 and, later that month, in Loughborough. However, on both occasions he was told at virtually the last minute that he could not demonstrate his product.
Having been refused approval for his product, Mr. Aldridge has found it virtually impossible to demonstrate Futbolito. It appears that once the FA discovers that he is about to demonstrate his product, it find ways to contact the organisers and sponsors and—surprise, surprise—the invitation to demonstrate is hurriedly withdrawn.
§ Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)
The dismal and worrying catalogue of events that have beset my hon. Friend's constituent have been almost exactly reflected in the experience of one of my constituents, Mr. Mickey Clarke who lives in Egham. He invented a similar mini-football game and has been treated disgracefully by the FA. My hon. Friend the Minister has been given the facts and I know that he is considering them carefully.
The case of my constituent adds force to what my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) has said. Something should be done. The Football Association seems to be omnipotent. If it were a commercial company 98 it would be outlawed by the Office of Fair Trading. Indeed, if it were trading across European Community boundaries it would be fined heavily by the Commission. Perhaps the OFT could do something. I certainly support my hon. Friend in all that he has said.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
As my hon. Friend clearly explained, his constituent has a problem similar to that of my constituent. Indeed, his constituent has also written to me with copies of his correspondence—not because he expects me to check up on my hon. Friend, but because his case bears such a remarkable similarity to the issues surrounding my constituent's problem. I know that my hon. Friend has assiduously pursued his constituent's case, probably with much the same results as I have achieved on behalf of my constituent. I wish my hon. Friend's constituent the very best of luck, although I gather from the correspondence that he is having tremendous difficulty getting any results. Indeed, he is probably shorter of his objective than my constituent is.
The main problem for my constituent relates to demonstrations. On one occasion he was prevented from demonstrating Futbolito at an English Schools Football Association event literally as he was about to go on to the pitch. After a series of telephone calls from the Football Association, the ESFA was left in that hazy area of not being told directly "thou shalt not", but having it made quite clear that if it were the FA's decision, it certainly would not do so. I gather that in the football world that is tantamount to saying, "Don't do it." The ESFA then withdrew my constituent's invitation as he was about to go on to the pitch to demonstrate the product. Yet before inviting him it knew that he did not have official FA approval. The truth is that the FA did not like the fact that my constituent had been invited to demonstrate his competitive product.
It is difficult for my constituent to promote his product to schools. Imagine his position. He writes to a school and suggests that he goes there to demonstrate his product or talk about it. The school—especially if it is an inner-city school—looks at his literature and thinks the product is a good idea. Then the person reading the literature realises that he does not have FA approval, or perhaps in conversation with him they ask, "Does this product have FA approval?" The answer is no, in which case they say, "Well, we shall probably look instead at the FA approved products," little realising that in fact there is but one approved product, which also happens to be the FA's product. The schools do not understand all that; they simply look for the FA badge of approval. That is right because they want something approved on the grounds that it is reasonably safe and is a good game that teaches children the right skills. That is what they are looking for, but it is not the essence of why FA approval has been withheld.
The FA makes money from its approved version of mini-football. It also sells a variety of other things over which it has control of approval. Like Futbolito, the FA is a limited company and therefore quite legitimately—I do not criticise this—seeks to make a profit from its mini-football game. However, it has a massive advantage as it can at the same time—this is my major point—deny its competitors the official approval that it gives to itself.
There are differences between the two games. One is smaller than the other and in one sense they do not directly compete—yet still approval is not given. What is the FA so 99 scared of that it refuses to give my constituent an opportunity to compete in the open marketplace? What is so much to be feared that my constituent cannot be allowed to demonstrate his game so that those wishing to buy a game can make a decision on whether his is worth the money, whether it is a good game, whether it is cost-effective and all the other aspects that consumers take into consideration in making a choice? Instead, only one product is available.
I do not want to go into detail about who stole whose idea. That is always a grey area. I am not saying that the FA set out to steal my constituent's idea, although there are disputes on the margins about when its product was devised and whether it got the idea in some part from my hon. Friend's constituent or from mine. The real point is that there should be a proper, competitive marketplace, but the FA is preventing that by refusing people such as my constituent a fair crack at selling their products.
My son and daughter attend an inner-city school in London, which has a limited tarmac playing area about half the size of the Chamber. It would be perfect for my constituent's product, but would not be right for the FA's larger mini-soccer product. Such schools are denied the opportunity to consider Futbolito and therefore to encourage their children to kick a ball around.
I am passionate about the concept of team sports, as is my hon. Friend the Minister. I criticise both this and past Governments for laying less and less emphasis on the need for children to compete with each other, learning what it is like to win at the same time and, more importantly, learning what it is like to lose—to learn to live with failure as well as with success. The best way to do that is go out and kick a ball around or, in the summer, to hit a cricket ball—the sort of things that we used to enjoy doing when we were young, but which are now rarely available for children. They spend far too long sitting in front of computers playing computer games; they have forgotten what it is like to compete.
We must try to reverse that trend. My hon. Friend the Minister is one of the great supporters of the concept of team sports. This debate is not just about my constituent, although his case is vital; it not just about the fact that we no longer have a proper, competitive marketplace, although that is also vital; it is about the fact that at the heart of the problem there is a sickness that affects the way in which we can draw talent from all our children. It is no wonder that we find it difficult at times to get people into coaching and into senior sides and end up producing a side in England, Scotland, or Wales that does not go off to the world cup.
It is ironic that I am holding this debate tonight when I watched television on Saturday night and applauded the Irish for their fantastic effort in beating the Italians. I applauded them because they showed every bit of the determination and drive that we should have done in this country. I do not necessarily blame just the players; I blame the whole system and at the heart of that system is the Football Association, which illustrates that sickness by the way in which it has behaved towards my constituent and others.
I must press my hon. Friend the Minister on the matter because we need to do something about it. I am the last person to say that something must be done, but I have to 100 say it in this case because we have a problem. It is not only about sorting out how football is played, but about the fact that there is a lack of competition in that marketplace. We are allowing the Football Association to act almost as gods. My hon. Friend and I have had considerable correspond-ence on the matter. Although the Government's position is that it is not their place to interfere in the matter, and I understand that argument, the booklet about mini-soccer states:The sponsorship of Mini-Soccer by Coca Cola Great Britain has been recognised by an award under the Government's Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme for Sport, `Sportsmatch', which is administered in England by the Institute of Sports Sponsorship.It appears, therefore, that we are putting some money towards the product. I am not questioning whether that was right or suggesting that this sponsorship is in any way is wrong. I am questioning the decision that we should do nothing when clearly something needs to be done. We have an entrée because we gave the FA—reasonably enough, it would be appear—sponsorship to deal with the problem of getting children on to the pitch to play football, so let us ensure that there is proper competition and that there is not unfair use by the FA of its position.
I believe that there needs to be a separation between the FA's right to approve products and its right to produce products for itself. Let us start there. Let us find a way to separate those powers and we may see a Football Association which moves forward to protect and encourage the game across the country. We must do that and get those basics right, because my constituent, who worked very hard and put up a large amount of money to try to get his product off the ground, is being forced towards bankruptcy because he cannot get a fair shot at the market. Most people listening to or reading the debate would think such a situation absurd and I demand that we do something about it: some mechanism must be found to get inside the FA and sort it out.
§ Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) for allowing me a few moments to speak in the debate. I congratulate him on his persistence in trying to get the topic discussed, because, under the rules of the House, it has been extremely difficult. However, we now have a useful debate raising the subject of the Department of National Heritage's responsibility for sport.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I shall not take advantage of the fact that we could talk for another hour and three quarters on this topic or widen my remarks too much to go into the Department's responsibility. However, the topic raised by the hon. Gentleman is a useful opportunity to raise one or two points about the Football Association generally, for which the Minister, in his responsibility for sport generally and, especially, for football, which is the national game, loved and cared for by so many millions of people, has ultimate responsibility, even though the FA is responsible for the game.
I agree whole-heartedly with the hon. Gentleman and his views on Futbolito. I have also been involved—obviously not as much as the hon. Gentleman—with the case. I also know about the other case to which the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls) referred.
However, I shall raise first an issue of concern to me: the scheme called Soccerfun. It is also a new, innovative 101 scheme, which was devised by Mr. Terry Densham. It is in a similar situation, although it has not quite gone to the length of the case about Futbolito. It is also a game for five to seven-year-old boys and girls in family groups. It has been developed, there have been many meetings and it has been started following meetings in Leeds, Watford and Manchester.
The Junior and Family Football Supporters Association asked Soccerfun to introduce sessions to eight clubs during the summer of 1992. It was proposed, if the scheme was successful, to provide the other 67 major football clubs with the results and to recommend the introduction of Soccerfun. The condition, once again, was that the FA had to give approval in writing. Unfortunately, in spite of repeated attempts, meetings and discussions, two years later a dialogue is still continuing, but absolutely nothing has happened. It is just another example of the way in which the FA use its power to control and its power to divide and decide what it wants to do and what is in the best interests of football.
I think that the average person in the country who cares about football would say that the last body in Britain that could organise, care and understand football is the FA, because it has had a series of failures. If people are absolutely honest, they would not blame the England players or even the England manager, but they would blame the system in this country and the FA. The FA is responsible for football in the country and it has not served the game or the supporters well.
There has recently been quite a lot of publicity about the charges and penalties as a result of the difficulties and scandals happening in football, especially relating to the problems at Tottenham Hotspur. Much as I want to see the underhand dealings, the kickbacks, the bungs in the envelopes and such matters sorted out, the way in which the FA has responded and dealt with the problems at Tottenham Hotspur has not done the attempts to get to the bottom of the matter any good whatever.
I remind hon. Members that the FA set up a commission almost a year ago to look into those charges of financial dealings and nothing happened for months and months. Finally, the only occurrence has been that the chairman of Tottenham, Alan Sugar, went to the FA and produced some of the background, which he had found out since he joined the club—I do not want to get into the difficulties between Alan Sugar and Terry Venables—and there was no doubt that Tottenham came clean with the new chairman and produced as much documentation as they could. As a result, the club has been very badly treated. There is no doubt that it should have been fined, although, interestingly, the person responsible for most of the matter—Irving Scholar—is sunning it in the south of France and getting away with absolutely everything. The very least that the FA should have said was that Irving Scholar should have absolutely nothing to do with any football club and should never be allowed to have anything at all to do with football in this country. It has not even said that.
The FA has taken the easy route out. It has punished the supporters; those people who pay their money week in and week out to watch Tottenham, when the team have not been doing especially well and when they have been doing well. Those people have paid their money on wet and cold nights and they have been punished. Indeed, the entire club is being punished for something for which the people who are curently running the club are not responsible. It is extremely unjust. It raises the question whether a vendetta 102 might be being waged by the FA against Tottenham in particular because of the difficulties that there were between Terry Venables and Alan Sugar. It would not do now, of course, given that Terry Venables has been appointed the manager of England, for him to be in any sort of difficulty. We must question whether the FA is prepared to get to the bottom of the financial irregularities. It should be taking a much more serious view and not picking on one club and using it as a scapegoat.
The FA should be setting up independent tribunals to examine the ways in which players are sold from one club to another. There should be an independent tribunal system. There must be a great deal more control of agents. There was the ridiculous situation over the past few days concerning Eric Hall. I do not think that any player in this country would want Eric Hall to represent him. On the other hand, there are some good agents who are willing to be regulated. They are willing to put all their financial dealings through the FA. The association should be taking the lead from the good agents who want to work properly for the players.
The FA fouled up the appointment of the England manager. It is to be questioned whether it is capable, as constituted, of running the game. It is all very well saying that it is the governing body of soccer and we should leave it to run things.
Soccer is an important part of our sporting and cultural life and it matters what is happening to it. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Minister to be aware of who is running the FA. Who are the sort of people who are running it? Is it good enough to have people like Charles Hughes running the coaching system? The Minister should adopt a much more hands-on approach. He should be doing much more to knock heads together, to lay down guidelines and to insist that certain things are done. Ultimately, the average soccer supporter has only the Minister to help to change things. I hope that he will take on board some of the changes that are necessary.
The way in which the FA has handled the television coverage of soccer is disgraceful. It has allowed television companies to decide when matches will be played. It has played into the hands of people who are interested only in making money. I recognise, of course, that clubs need to be financially sound. We want clubs to have sufficient money to enable them to buy players, for example. In the present climate, however, it is the ordinary punter who is suffering once again. I am talking of the person who goes along to a match, pays his money and tries to watch football. He has to go through the hoop to watch matches on a Monday evening. He travels long distances and pays large amounts of money. Such circumstances should not have been allowed to develop.
One of the problems is that football is being run by people who are still living in the past. They have not moved into this century and they are certainly unprepared to move into the next. They are not in tune with the modern game. We have a responsibility in the House to take an interest in what is going on.
Another problem is that many people, including some hon. Members, do not like criticising the FA because they like getting free tickets. It is wrong that, even in the House, we cannot make it clear that we think that there is a great deal more that could be done to clean out the game and to ensure that it is run by people who have an interest not only 103 in the players but in the supporters and, most important, in setting standards and targets that will mean that England will be able to qualify for the next world cup.
The current problems lie not with the players or the standard of play but with those who are running the game and with the way in which it is being run. It is not being run in the interests of the players, and certainly not in the interests of supporters.
§ Sir Michael Grylls
The hon. Lady referred to free tickets. I dissociate myself from the general proposition that Members have free tickets. I have never sought a free ticket and I have never been offered one. Indeed, I do not want one.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The problem lies with those who might want the odd free ticket—this is very much part of what I said earlier—and do not want to say something that might mean, whatever they are doing to run their end of football, that the FA might suddenly be breathing down their necks, saying that next time something comes up and it has the power to make a decision, it will decide against them. The problem extends right the way up to what the hon. Lady said about Spurs. It seems that those who are running the organisation see it as their personal sinecure. They seem to think that favours can be granted or not according to whatever is in their interests. It is an outrage and something must be done about it.
§ Ms Hoey
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is a cosy establishment complacency that is based on how things were run in the past. The FA is not representative of those who understand football. It has no representative from the Professional Footballers Association. There are very few representatives who have come from the professional game. There is a ridiculous system of ticket allocation. On FA cup day, those who have followed the two teams right the way through often find that they are unable to get tickets for the Cup Final because so many of the tickets go to others who have no direct interest in the two clubs.
Perhaps it is just as well that I did not realise that we would have so much time to debate these issues. With that knowledge, I would have prepared a 45-minute tirade against the FA. I shall, however, sound a warning to the Minister. I am worried about the European championships that England will be hosting in 1996. I am delighted that that is to happen, but I am genuinely worried whether the FA has the capacity to organise the championships in a way that will maximise the benefit to the United Kingdom, including the supporters and football generally.
I am concerned because the FA still refuses to listen. It always acts too late. It reacts only when things have already happened. It is important that the Minister keeps a close eye on how the FA is working towards the championships. I am not talking about problems that relate to hooliganism, for example. Surely we want to maximise 104 a sporting festival for people in this country and others throughout the world. I have grave doubts about the FA's capacity to do that.
I hope that the Minister will pick up the particular case which this debate is all about, because it is quite wrong that the buck can be passed. The Office of Fair Trading says that the case has nothing to do with it. The Minister responsible for sport says that it has nothing to do with him and the FA continues to get away with basically being the judge and jury. I hope that this debate, short as it is, will give the Minister something to get his teeth into. I am sure that he will welcome doing that.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. fain Sproat)
May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) on his good fortune in securing this Adjournment debate and on the persistence with which he has followed this case? He was in touch with my predecessor as Minister responsible for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), and he has spoken and written to me about it. His constituent should be glad, if for nothing else, for the hard work that my hon. Friend has put into this important case.
I am also very glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls) who is, typically, also in his place. He and I have had discussions and exchanged correspondence over many months about a similar case affecting his constituent called Mr. Mickey Clarke. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his hard work on behalf of his constituent.
I am also glad to see the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) in the Chamber. I congratulate her on the astute way in which she broadened this debate, entirely of course within the proper boundaries. She used the fact that we happened to begin the debate rather earlier than expected to set out many interesting and wide-ranging propositions. I assure her that I will study what she has said extremely carefully.
I will answer in more detail in just a moment the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford about his constituent Mr. Aldridge. The hon. Member for Vauxhall said that she hoped that she had given me something to get my teeth into. She has certainly done that.
I have listened very carefully and with great interest to the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford for Mr. Aldridge and I entirely agree that Futbolito appears to be a well-intentioned scheme for participants of all ages and for a wide range of users such as qualified football coaches, teachers, local community sports developments officers and football clubs at all levels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford will know that the concept of Futbolito originated from Colombia where football is played with a small ball on a pitch the size of a basketball court. I understand that Futbolito is already played in around 300 schools and by 19 professional clubs in this country and that it is the intention, as the scheme develops, to introduce local, county, national and, ultimately, international Futbolito championships.
My Department does not, of course, have any jurisdiction to intervene in the day-to-day affairs of properly constituted governing bodies of sport such as the Football Association. As my hon. Friend the Member for 105 Chingford will be aware, the role of Government is to support and encourage the development of, and participation in, sport through appropriate policies and expenditure programmes. The Government do not, and should not, run sport.
From our previous correspondence and from correspondence with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford will be aware that Mr. Aldridge's complaints about alleged anticompetitive practices by the FA have been fully investigated by the Director General of Fair Trading. In October 1992, following allegations that Futbolito demonstrations had been banned by the football authorities, the Office of Fair Trading made inquiries of the FA and the English Schools Football Association and the director general was satisfied that there had been no transgression of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976.
The director general also concluded in January 1993 that the FA's action had not breached the relevant competition legislation—the Fair Trading Act 1973 and the Competition Act 1980. Under the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Director General of Fair Trading has a duty to review commercial activities in the United Kingdom, identifying possible monopoly situations. Where criteria are met, he may at his discretion refer such situations to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for investigation.
Under the Competition Act 1980, the director general may also investigate courses of conduct pursued by individual organisations that may be anti-competitive. I understand that he does not have powers to take up complaints on behalf of individuals; nor can he make judgments on what is fair, unless they raise concerns for competition in the wider context of the market as a whole. The director general was not persuaded that Mr. Aldridge's case raised such concerns.
Hon. Members will know that four home country associations are responsible for football, each of which covers the school, amateur and professional aspects of the sport. The FA, formed in 1863 as the governing body of football in England, is responsible for an enormous range of activities at every level of the game. More than 43,000 clubs are affiliated and the FA has a crucial role in ensuring a healthy and successful base for the national game.
Over recent years, the FA has expanded its activities and stepped up its commitment to the development of young players and the need to invest in the future of the game. The FA's programme for excellence has led to the creation of centres of excellence attended by more than 8,500 students between the ages of nine and 14. The development of that programme has been possible only because of the Football Association's determination to establish a financially secure base for its work. More money is now available to be directed at the grassroots of 106 the game, where the long-term future of the sport is being secured and underpinned by the Football Association in partnership with a range of other agencies.
More than 100,000 children are coached annually on courses approved by the Football Association and by qualified FA coaches. They participate in a range of schemes, including the soccer star scheme, which is a skills award scheme for boys and girls aged six to 16; the preliminary soccer star scheme, which is for children with disabilities and learning difficulties; and in fun weeks, which are non-residential and residential holiday courses. The FA also runs mini-soccer, which brings me to the subject at the heart of the debate.
It is my understanding that the FA views its scheme, which was launched last year, as an extension of its existing coaching programmes. The aim is to provide a football introduction to boys and girls, with a view to developing a lasting interest in the sport. While developing the scheme, the Football Association has been assisted by a number of other sporting bodies that have recently developed specific schemes to attract the interest of the young. That includes the National Cricket Association, which initiated kwik cricket; the Lawn Tennis Association, which was responsible for the introduction of short tennis; and the Rugby Football Union, which was responsible for mini-rugby.
In partnership with Coca-Cola, as my hon. Friend mentioned, the FA has encouraged clubs, schools, sports centres and youth clubs to open up as licensed mini-soccer centres to create a nationwide network in which children can play safely under supervision. Mini-soccer is the only competitive form of football approved by the FA for under-nines, and it is the recommended game for all under-I Is. I understand that the FA will not sanction any leagues, cups or tournaments; it believes that, at those young ages, the game is a sufficient challenge in itself. The FA believes also that mini-soccer can provide a valuable curriculum resource for the games module of the physical education national curriculum for boys and girls in mixed teams.
The FA is also involved in a series of special projects to encourage participation by certain groups of young people. Those include girls-only coaching courses, a new "football challenge" Duke of Edinburgh award, which is aimed at inner-city areas, and a series of coaching courses for police officers working in areas of high deprivation.
I believe that the Football Association and Mr. Aldridge have the health of football and young people at heart. In common with all hon. Members, I very much hope that their efforts will bear fruit.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Nine o'clock.