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11 October 2016, 21:26
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch is to consider drafting in a mediator to help resolve the crisis engulfing Coventry City.
The Tory frontbencher faced calls from Labour's Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) to appoint an "eminent figure'', such as a judge, to "get all sides together'' and resolve the problems facing the Sky Blues.
MPs heard the deal allowing City to play at the Ricoh Arena expires at the end of the 2017/18 season, with talks to reach an agreement having broken down.
Mr Cunningham added a long-term solution "remains far away'', telling MPs: "The threat of the club once again moving out of the city remains.''
The club previously spent time playing homes games in Northampton following a long-running dispute between its owner Sisu and then ground owner Arena Coventry Limited.
Rugby union side Wasps have since taken over the stadium after relocating.
Coventry sit bottom of the League One table, with just one win in their opening 11 games.
On the proposal for a mediator to resolve the issues facing the club, Ms Crouch told Mr Cunningham during a Westminster Hall debate: "One of the most frustrating things I think sometimes about the sports minister brief, and also in terms of football, is actually there's a lot of things that happen within football that should have nothing to do with Government.
"I regularly get contacted by supporters of various football clubs, of which Coventry City is one, where they wish for the Government to intervene, where they wish for the minister to get personally involved and that is incredibly difficult to do because ultimately it's not a matter for the Government to intervene on these things.
"However, I completely hear what you say in terms of trying to ensure that there is somebody that would mediate between the parties.
"And if it has got to that point where the relationship is so broken that the parties can't come together and come to agreement then that is something we'll take away and I will consider in great detail.''
Ms Crouch suggested Tory MP Damian Collins, who has campaigned for greater supporter involvement in football clubs and for an overhaul of how the game is regulated, may wish to consider if he could play a role.
She added "someone outside the political arena'' may instead be appropriate, adding: "Ultimately, this is an issue for the football authorities and they need to come together to try and sort this out.''
Mr Cunningham, intervening, told Ms Crouch: "I understand ministers can't get involved, they don't want to get involved, but ministers do have the authority to appoint somebody of some standing to bring both sides together.
"I think the fans would welcome that and the fans have been very constructive... I accept ministers very often get lots of demands from football fans and all that goes with that.
"But this is far too serious now. This has been going on for five or six years and something has got to be done about it.''
Mr Collins, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, bemoaned the lack of accountability within the game.
He said: "One of the reasons I think these cases come back to the minister's door time after time, be it Coventry, Leeds or Portsmouth, is that the football authorities are powerless to do anything when they see a club being run badly.
"As long as the owners keep within the very narrow confines of the rules, you can run a football club into the ground in this country and the FA won't lift a finger.''
Ms Crouch said she would discuss this with officials, adding: "I do think there is perhaps a gap there and it's something we perhaps need to look at.''
Earlier, Labour's Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East) criticised the Football League.
She said: "If the Football League is indeed the effective and responsible regulatory body it claims to be, it will, surely, have sought and received clear evidence from Sisu which shows they have a plan to secure a long-term stadium solution in Coventry.
"Similarly, it will have monitored the situation to ensure that real progress has been and is being made towards achieving this ambition and will wish to take appropriate and robust action, including the removal of the golden share from Sisu should the situation remain unresolved.
"I urge the minister to ask the Football League for sight of this evidence.
"I intend to do the same thing during a meeting I have with them later this week but I fear that the Football League does not hold such evidence because I say it simply does not exist.
"If I'm right, this demonstrates the inadequacy of the Football League's role in the Coventry City saga and is indicative of its inability - or worse, its unwillingness - to properly regulate the game of football.''