MP blows whistle on costly football as working class children are priced out

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IT HAS always been seen as a game of the working classes.

But an investigation is to be launched amid concerns that football is becoming increasingly the preserve of children from privileged backgrounds.

Sport Minister Helen Grant has confirmed that she is investigating the fees which councils charge for football pitches amid warnings that the sport is steadily becoming a game for youngsters with rich parents.

Ms Grant said a new ownership model for local sports facilities “may need to be looked at” after Labour MP David Crausby warned of a long-term decline in participation as teams cannot afford to hire pitches.

The MP for Bolton North East said many parents cannot afford fees for their children to play on pitches, let alone boots and travel, and so many poorer children are being denied a chance to play.

He said he did not blame local authorities that are having to absorb 40 per cent cuts and so charge higher fees. But he derided the Football Association for “failing the grassroots game” in the wake of a £1.6m funding cut from Sport England after a decline in participation.

Leading a debate on grassroots football in Westminster Hall, he said: “Poor pitches, weeks of play lost to bad weather, no changing facilities, no showers, increasing pitch fees, poor families priced out and other families deterred by the shoddy conditions.

“The result is not surprisingly that participation is falling. There are currently 1.84 million people playing football on a regular basis, according to Sport England, a fall of 100,000 since April last year. There were more than two million people playing in 2006 and what we are witnessing is a long-term decline.

He added: “The FA have called the reduction in funding disappointing. Well frankly the FA should be more than disappointed. They should feel ashamed because if they are failing the grassroots game then they are failing the game itself and everything they stand for.”