England Men’s Futsal Team Correspondence with FA CEO Mark Bullingham

In September 2020, an internal document by the English FA was leaked by Guardian newspapers in which the English Football Association (FA) decided to cut funding for futsal, unilaterally decided to disband England Men’s Futsal Team, stopped the creation of England Women’s Futsal Team, and remove almost all the funding for their Fast Forward with Futsal Strategy.

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After months and countless tries to get in touch with the people in the FA responsible for such a shocking decision, above all FA’s CEO Mark Bullingham, the English futsal community efforts have finally come to fruition, somewhat. Although they have insisted on a face-to-face meeting, or at least a video conference call, FA’s CEO Mark Bullingham accepted to have an e-mail correspondence. His reasoning for this is that more than four months after this appalling decision, he still did not find the time to familiarize himself with the situation surrounding futsal professionals in his own footballing association and needed time to prepare his answers.

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FutsalFeed is in possession of “England Men’s Futsal Team’s Summary of Correspondence with the FA CEO Mark Bullingham” which we share in its entirety in the continuation of this article. Furthermore, at the bottom of the article, we have attached a link to the entire e-mail correspondence between the English futsal community and FA’s CEO.

As futsal fans and enthusiasts, we have already made our opinion on this matter known. What comes as a particular shock is that, even after a huge community outburst against this decision that was heard worldwide, English FA has little to no understanding of the dismal situation in which they have left their futsal community. Throughout the e-mail correspondence – the most repeated message by the FA CEO was: Futsal is not one of the key enablers within The FA’s strategic goals and as a result, this decision will not be reversed.'

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England Men’s Futsal Team’s Summary of Correspondence with FA CEO Mark Bullingham

❏ Consistent lack of transparency & accountability within The FA

❏ Futsal partnership revenues not being allocated to futsal

❏ Actions conflict with key strategic pillar of inclusion

❏ Alarming failures in their duty of care to athletes in regard to mental health

❏ Justification for withdrawal from UEFA Competition inconsistent with actions

On the 23rd September 2020, The FA released a statement that was consistent with a Guardian news report that revealed nearly all funding for futsal would be wiped out, one consequence being the termination of the national team programme.

We, the England Men’s Futsal Team, felt we must use our position to challenge this hugely detrimental decision in the interests of everyone within the futsal community as the sport appears to be under attack from The FA.

Since the 24th September we’ve repeatedly requested a video conference call with the FA CEO, Mark Bullingham, to allow him to defend these decisions but he has continually failed to accept our invitation. He did, eventually, concede to accepting questions by email.

Despite sustained efforts to get answers, we feel many questions remain left unanswered as, in general, the responses have been evasive and vague. We understand this lack of genuine engagement is shared by MPs and national media who have also put questions to the FA on the issue.

The lack of transparency and accountability throughout is an appalling indictment for the governing body of the national game. We fully support the push for significant reform of the organisation so it can better serve all its communities and effectively fulfill the role of a governing body.

Below we highlight some of Mr Bullingham responses alongside the context of what happened. This is supported by the release of the full questions and answers between us as transparency must always be non-negotiable.

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Major Sponsorship For Futsal

The severe budget reduction to futsal has been imposed after The FA one year earlier promoted a “record investment” from a 3-year partnership with Pokemon “to support our National Futsal strategy and help grow participation in England” and would work with Pokemon in "supporting the England men’s national Futsal team".

When asked about this Mr Bullingham replied “our commitment and partnership with Pokémon is focused on the FA Pokémon Youth Cup”. This altered purpose of the partnership has costs of around £70,000 per year, yet, a well-placed source has informed us the 3-year agreement was worth millions of pounds. We are unaware where the rest of the money has been allocated.

A Thriving & Diverse Community Being Neglected

The underlying message we received during the correspondence was futsal’s insignificance to The FA as they do not consider it a core function, key priority or important to their strategic goals. Mr Bullingham identified these reasons as to why they enforced such severe funding cuts on futsal, despite the overall reductions needed across the organisation being far lower.

Whilst we recognise futsal does not represent one of The FA’s largest communities, it is, as their own data highlights, thriving and diverse.

Over 13,000 people have earned futsal coaching qualifications in less than a decade and the number of affiliated players virtually doubled in the year to 2019. The FA Director of Women’s football said “futsal can play a key part in our strategy to grow the women’s and girls’ game.”

As well as rapidly growing participation, it plays an important role in player development for football with it receiving glowing references from Gareth Southgate and former FA Technical Director Dan Ashworth. Many less established futsal nations such as France and Germany are currently increasing their investments into the sport.

The FA’s position on futsal presents a serious threat to its progress in England by inhibiting the growing participation numbers and risks damaging the competitiveness of the England football teams.

Further, it fails to align with their “For All” guiding philosophy and the key strategic pillar of inclusion. The FA’s own research suggested futsal was more popular with female & BAME participants than any type of football. Therefore, it can be presumed that The FA took these decisions understanding they will disproportionately impact traditionally underrepresented demographic groups. It seems The FA are, once again, failing these communities.

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A Lack of Impact Assessment

We understand the only person with direct responsibility for futsal consulted before the decision was David Faulkner, the then Head of Performance for Women's Professional Game, Para and Futsal, who told us he was “uncomfortable” with the funding decision.

On a call where we were informed of the decision, we wished to assess his understanding and interest in futsal. We asked him 3 simple questions about the fundamental futsal laws of the game. He acknowledged he only knew the answer to one of them and it was right for him to be criticised for that.

From this we conclude the person they relied on for an informed presentation on futsal was unqualified for this responsibility. Mr Faulkner agreed it was a “fair assessment” to say the decisions were a simple case of looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. We were left in disbelief that the relevant factors and likely impacts were not part of the decision-making process.

We pursued this with Mr Bullingham and he continually failed to provide any information, either financial or non-financial, that was considered to be able to make informed decisions on the futsal budget, other than the need to make funding cuts across the organisation. He cited confidentiality but we don’t see why this would prevent us being informed of any general topics discussed.

It appears The FA fails to follow its own advice included in their governance guide for clubs which recommends that, before making decisions, an executive board has “adequately informed itself and is basing its decision on a range of data and information that provides sound understanding of all relevant factors.” That an organisation with the responsibility and resources of The FA, not to mention one in receipt of taxpayer’s money, is not doing this on major funding decisions to ensure the right choices are being taken is hugely concerning.

When we probed further with our questioning, Mr Bullingham replied “there is little value in rehashing the debate that was had at the time”. We believe he is referring to our previous questioning as we are not aware of any other discussion that has been had on these matters, another of our major concerns.

It is astonishing that the figurehead of the governing body for the national game, as these comments demonstrate, has such reluctance towards major decisions receiving even mild scrutiny by key stakeholders.

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Unacceptable Treatment of National Team Players

 The England futsal players were informed the national team programme would be abolished on the same video conference call mentioned earlier after first learning about it from the Guardian newspaper. This included the men’s seniors, U21s and U19s and reneging on a commitment made to the women’s game to finally form an international side for female participants.

On that call we had the difficult experience of hearing youth players appeal for support for their mental well-being and, later, realising that these pleas for help would not be satisfactorily answered by The FA. Whilst being promised that they would have the “utmost support” and “best help we can”, all the players received were emails with website links to charities.

Mr Bullingham said this was in line with their normal procedures which seriously questions whether the organisation has a genuine commitment to mental health issues despite their public position.

We view it as a serious failure of The FA’s duty of care to its athletes as a governing body, especially considering some players were minors, and these policies must be urgently reviewed in the interests of athlete welfare. Athletes must be provided proper support for their exit transition rather than being quickly discarded when they are no longer considered of use.

As the senior team we still had a UEFA Futsal Euro 2022 qualifying playoff to fulfill. The FA was neither going to provide an FA doctor or physiotherapist to accompany us or would guarantee we would continue our qualifying campaign if we won. All support for our preparations was removed by the FA, including being denied access to our own futsal arena at St George's Park. It was available to the men’s England football team who used it for in-house content on the organisation’s social media and YouTube channels.

Over many years we have demonstrated the utmost dedication and commitment to representing our country and, despite the distressing circumstances we faced, continued to prepare together under our own accord including traveling across the country to meet up around our full-time jobs.

However, all this was in vain when, just one week before we were due to travel, the FA took the unprecedented action of withdrawing us from a UEFA competition based on an apparent “full & thorough risk assessment” which, despite multiple requests, we have been refused to see evidence of its existence or any justification for the confidentiality.

The FA was alone across the whole of Europe in the action of withdrawing as every other participating country fulfilled their fixture, supported by UEFA implementing strict safety protocols, with one fixture utilising the option of postponement.

Around the same time, the England football team played in Belgium, a global hotspot for Covid-19 at the time, and against Iceland at home. For the latter game to be played The FA successfully lobbied the UK government for an exemption on the travel ban, implemented because of the emergence of a new virus strain, to allow Iceland to enter the country.

There was no material change in our situation that we are aware of leading up to our withdrawal and we have never had an explanation of why the decision was taken so late. If they were waiting to see if circumstances became acceptable to them then they would have asked UEFA for a postponement.

After evading numerous requests to say whether the FA had pursued a postponement, Mr Bullingham belatedly confirmed they had not. The FA’s decision to withdraw was referred to UEFA’s Disciplinary Committee, which found The FA’s actions breached the competition’s disciplinary regulations and imposed a fine.

Our public criticism of The FA’s decisions on futsal funding had been gaining attention as the games approached and we strongly feel our withdrawal by The FA was a callous attempt to punish and silence us after speaking out.

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For A Better FA

Our experience has shown repeated failures in transparency, assessment and accountability that suggest these are not isolated incidents but are reflective of systematic deficiencies within The FA. These have led to a dereliction of their duty as a governing body to futsal but should be equally a cause of concern for the football community. We fully support calls for significant reform of the organisation in order to achieve a satisfactory level of governance.

Our appalling treatment by The FA and that of futsal remains distressing and the futsal community feels completely let down. Our deep passion for futsal will drive us to continue to develop and promote the sport, and campaign to persuade The FA to do the same and reinstate the England futsal teams to inspire the next generation.

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*Note: FA CEO Mark Bullingham strongly disagreed with our summary and did not want its publication. His opinion was it “doesn’t reflect an accurate view of the correspondence or conversations you’ve had with us and as such you don’t have our permission to publish them.” He added in a later email that “If you decide to publish it then we reserve our position on any action we might take”.

We have full confidence that it provides a fair and balanced representation of our correspondence and the surrounding context. Below is the full question and answer so our interpretation can be verified. We are publishing it for the benefit of the futsal community to partly address the lack of communication on the decisions from The FA. Finally, Mr Bullingham’s response is indicative of their approach to accountability and how we’ve been treated throughout this process

The complete correspondence between England Men’s Futsal Team and FA CEO Mark Bullingham is available on this link here!