Friday, 9 December 2011

What’s in an APPG?

Written by Jonathan Farrow

Despite the event itself being attended by NFL Chairmen and cheerleaders, there was surprisingly little made of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for American Football, that had its inaugural meeting two months ago. A short press release was seemingly all that surfaced from BAFA. A shame, because the APPG could represent a new willingness to change and improve the state of American Football in the UK.

Indeed, the aims stated by Richard Fuller MP (no relation to Andy, I think...) in his speech as Chairman of the APPG was to increase official recognition of the sport, develop participation at a grassroots level, aid British players to reach their full potential and to pave the way for an NFL franchise to be established in the UK based team. This last statement, I imagine, will probably be met with a fair amount of groaning from the community as a whole. I’m not going to pontificate on the arguments here, but an NFL franchise would seem to be the very antithesis of the “bottom-up” method of increasing participation that has seen such success in recent years, and pooling our efforts into such an endeavour would appear to be counter-productive to this.

But this wasn’t the core of his speech. Indeed, I’m not at all of the opinion that a UK based NFL franchise is anywhere near to being the primary goal of the APPG. We must remember that Richard Fuller has the unenviable task of making Parliamentary involvement in the APPG attractive to other MPs. The prospect of an NFL franchise is something they can really get their teeth into, as opposed to the sometimes rather tedious internal squabbles that could potentially put them off.

However, we should not be expecting Acts of Parliament benefitting American Football anytime soon. Unlike the Select Committees made famous by the phone-hacking scandal, APPGs are not formal structures of the House and so have no real power. Nor are they particularly uncommon. APPGs can be found on a vast array of subjects, ranging from Agro-Ecology to the wood-panel industry, along with other minority sports such as Basketball, Ice Hockey and even Handball. In fact these last three have garnered enough attention to gain the twenty or more Members required to be listed on the Register of APPGs, something that, at the time of writing, the APPG on American Football is yet to achieve.

I hasten to add that I am not saying that the APPG should have this level of attention yet. To have 20 or so Members of Parliament involved at this stage would be extraordinary. Nor is it a criticism that the APPG should have been established long ago, such despondence we should confine to the forums. Instead, the important point to take from the establishment of the APPG is that we have a BAFA board who are willing to show some leadership and rectify the problems of the past. Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that every decision that they will make is going to be the right one, I myself disagree with certain elements of the BAFANL re-alignment. Yet it was plain to see that there were intense problems with the domestic game as it stood that had not been looked at since BAFL folded, and these are now being addressed.

It is for this reason that we should be optimistic for the future of American Football in the UK. It has been a few years now since BAFL imploded, and the BAFA board have slowly but surely picked up the pieces and rearranged them in a way that is, by and large, a lot better than before. Now that we have moved out of this recovery period we are seeing a much more proactive approach, and although it is only a small step, the APPG is very much characteristic of this.  It’s just a shame that they chose a Cornhusker to be the Chairman.

Jonathan Farrow is a Parliamentary Researcher and plays for the UH Sharks and Birmingham Bulls.

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