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Oliver Dowden dismisses 'Project Big Picture' discussions

Oliver Dowden dismisses 'Project Big Picture' discussions
© Reuters
The Culture Secretary has urged EFL chairman Rick Parry to focus on agreeing a rescue package with the Premier League.

EFL chairman Rick Parry has been urged by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to "stop being distracted over this latest wheeze" concerning the revolutionary Project Big Picture plans and focus on talks with the Premier League to secure a rescue package for his competition.

Dowden took a dim view of the proposals which first became public knowledge over the weekend, describing them as 'Project Power Grab' and reiterated that a fan-led review of the game's governance would have to be brought forward "imminently" if the leagues could not settle their differences.

The PBP plans include a £250million immediate payment to the EFL at a time when its clubs are starved of matchday income by the coronavirus pandemic and the promise of a 25 per cent share of future Premier League media revenues for the EFL.

However, the plans have been criticised for concentrating too much power in the hands of the Premier League's so-called 'big six', with Liverpool and Manchester United having been the main architects of the proposals.

Dowden told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee: "I've made clear my scepticism and concern about this.

"We know from the conversations we have had that the EFL clubs will not be allowed to go bust, there are the resources there, but we need a comprehensive deal and this is a distraction at best from that.

"What it demonstrates is that we were wise to put in our manifesto provisions for a fan-led review because it genuinely brings into question the ability of football to govern itself properly.

"I have met extensively with (Premier League chief executive) Richard Masters and (EFL chairman) Rick Parry and we are all pretty convinced this deal can be done.

Culture Secretary described the proposals within Project Big Picture as a
Culture Secretary described the proposals within Project Big Picture as a "profound change" to the way football is structured (Jonathan Brady/PA)

"The Premier League have indicated their willingness to do this, I hope the EFL will stop being distracted by this latest wheeze over the weekend and come seriously to the table and do the deal."

Asked for his view on Parry specifically, Dowden said: "I would have preferred that at the end of this that, rather than reading about this 'Project Power Grab' as you rightly put it, instead I was reading how they had come to a deal to secure the future of football, I think that would be a much better use of people's time."

Parry argues that the PBP proposals represent a chance for the EFL to secure its long-term future, and they have been cautiously welcomed by many – but not all – EFL clubs' executives.

Dowden was pressed on his comment concerning guarantees that no EFL club would go bust, insisting that was not a Government assurance but the assurance he had been given by the EFL.

He set out why the Government felt it was the Premier League's responsibility to help the EFL financially, pointing to the fact that top-flight clubs spent more than £1billion in the summer transfer window.

He added: "Given there is that much money in football, could we seriously turn around to a pensioner in Hartlepool and say to her that some of her taxes would have to go to support this?

"We have given wider support to sports, the role of Government is to bring those two sides of the table together."

Premier League clubs are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the PBP plans, with Football Association chairman Greg Clarke warning on Tuesday that his organisation stood ready to intervene if it felt the proposals brought forward threatened the structure of the game.

He said he had walked away from PBP discussions last spring "when the principal aim of these discussions became the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few clubs with a breakaway league mooted as a threat".

He said the FA would block any attempt of a breakaway league, and bar such rebel clubs from European competition.

Clive Efford MP asked Dowden why he had so vehemently rejected the PBP proposals and said he did not feel they fundamentally changed the way the game would be governed.

Dowden replied: "It's a pretty profound change to the nature of football, I am going to have to disagree with you on that."

Dowden did agree with Julie Elliott MP's assertion that the rescue package should be separated from discussions on the balance of power between the football pyramid and within the Premier League.

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