Alan Hubbard

Whoever said sport and politics do not mix had never met Damian Collins.

The 43-year-old British MP is chair of the All-Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, a body which is currently in the process of giving the sporting establishment a good kicking.

Livewire Collins was elected to head the committee last October (beating former sports minister Helen Grant for the job) and he has quickly made himself very busy, tackling the role robustly and controversially. He is never short of expressing an opinion and not afraid to slap down the most powerful of sporting icons.

Just ask Lord Coe or Sir Dave Brailsford, whom he has repeatedly hauled before him and his team of MPs and demanded to know what the hell has been going in world athletics and British cycling.

While his committee has no executive power what it does have is parliamentary privilege and their verdicts can be both caustic and damning.

Collins, a relative newby as a Conservative MP (he was elected to represent Folkestone and Hythe in 2010) is an Oxford graduate in history with no particular background in sport, though his CV says he is a keen fan of football, cricket and rugby.

He also served as one of the Government's Olympic Ambassadors during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Damian Collins MP, the All-Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee chairman ©Getty Images
Damian Collins MP, the All-Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee chairman ©Getty Images

Collins has been a particular thorn in the side of both Coe and Brailsford, demanding to know exactly what the incoming International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) chief knew about the scurrilous goings-on in the organisation before and after his election, even querying whether Coe had ‘misled’ Parliament.

And he has put a spoke in the wheel of British Cycling, that once-revered sport where the Sky now seems to have fallen in after the glories of successive Olympics.

Of particular interest to Collins and his 10-strong squad of political inquisitors is the notorious "Jiffygate" affair concerning Sir Bradley Wiggins and those curiously convenient Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) and whether the sport is a hotbed of sexism, as alleged by some female competitors. Punches have not been pulled in cross-examinations and these probes are ongoing.

Meantime the voluble Collins, who seems to wield more influence than most sports ministers, also continues to question football’s governance and finance. It was he who led the fierce political condemnation of FIFA’s criminal excesses from the floor of the House of Commons before corrupt collars were felt in Zurich.

He also led, albeit unsuccessfully, the move to get FIFA to lift the ban on England players displaying poppies in recognition of Armistice Day.

The ever-quotable Collins certainly has no qualms about putting himself about and now he has persuaded parliament to finally examine whether England’s Football Association (FA) is "fit for purpose" – as some successive sports ministers, particularly Richard Caborn, Sir Hugh Robertson and now current incumbent Tracey Crouch have been saying for some time.

The FA’s failure to reform is to be debated at the House of Commons on Thursday with a motion of no confidence in the governing body.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee will examine whether the FA can "comply fully with its duties".

Whether reform is impossible within the FA's structure will be looked at and new laws may be proposed.

In July, sports minister Crouch said the FA would lose its £30 million to £40m of public funding if it did not reform.

Then, in December, Crouch said that the government would bring in legislation to force through reforms if the governing body did not make changes itself.

Sports minister Tracey Crouch is among the figures in Westminster calling on the Football Association to reform ©Getty Images
Sports minister Tracey Crouch is among the figures in Westminster calling on the Football Association to reform ©Getty Images

Collins revealed last week that the FA had been given six months to meet the government guidance on best practice for sports governance but had failed to do so.

That guidance called for things such as a move towards gender equality on boards, more independent oversight, more accountability and term limits for office bearers.

Collins said: "We do not believe the FA will comply voluntarily: it can survive easily without the government's contribution of money to grassroots sport, and there are powerful vested interests that refuse to accept the right of all those involved in football to play a role in the governance of the sport.

"We are therefore preparing a draft bill to bring the structure of the FA, especially its board and council, more into line with modern company practice and the government's guidelines for sports bodies."

The motion comes after five former FA executives said the governing body had failed to "self-reform".

In a letter to Collins, David Bernstein, David Davies, Greg Dyke, Alex Horne and David Triesman described it as outdated, held back by "elderly white men" and unable to counter the power of the Premier League.

And in an interview with the BBC, Collins said: "We feel now that time has run out. We no longer have any confidence that the FA can or will reform itself."

However, while Collins and his select committee may draft legislation, it would still need government backing for it to be passed - and previous governments have not previously showed signs of supporting any new law to enforce reform.

Plus the fact that football's world governing body has rules stating football associations must be "independent and avoid any form of political interference".

FIFA has taken action on governmental interfering in the affairs of other football associations in the past. Similar strictures are on the statute book of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), if not always rigidly enforced.

Whatever happens, the FA will wriggle uncomfortably under such political scrutiny, which seems to be the object of the exercise in all of the Collins committee investigations.

Sport has heard a lot from Damian Collins recently and no doubt it will be hearing considerably more in the future.