Debbie Hewitt is the former chief executive of RAC and the current non-executive chair at Visa Europe and the financial services group BGL
Credit: EDDIE KEOGH – THE FA VIA GETTY IMAGES
The Football Association has appointed Debbie Hewitt as the first female chair in its 157-year history.
Described by the FA as the "unanimous choice" of the seven-member selection panel, Hewitt will permanently replace Greg Clarke in January 2022, subject to ratification by the FA Council next month.
Clarke resigned last year after making racially offensive and sexist remarks in front of a parliamentary committee, and interim chair Peter McCormick has since been in charge.
Who is Debbie Hewitt?
Hewitt has an extensive non-executive career spanning over 15 years in listed, private equity backed and privately-owned companies. She is the former chief executive of RAC and the current non-executive chair at Visa Europe and the financial services group BGL, which owns price comparison website Compare The Market. She was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to business and the public sector and has previously held non-executive chair roles across several companies including HR Owen, the luxury British motor retailer.
Seen as a modernising force, Hewitt has previously discussed being a proponent of cognitive diversity on boards, the importance of reverse mentoring, and why every business needs an emphasis on engaging a younger audience. She joins The FA after spending six years as director of The Restaurant Group, which owns chains including Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s.
A fan of Liverpool since childhood, Hewitt said her appointment came at a “significant moment” in time for the English game – six weeks on since disastrous plans for a breakaway European Super League blew up signalling the importance of securing the long-term health of the sport at all levels.
She said: "I’ve been passionate about football from a very young age and I’m excited by the opportunity to play my part in shaping the future of something that means so much to so many.
"I’m looking forward to working alongside our CEO Mark Bullingham and the team across Wembley Stadium and St George’s Park, and relish the opportunity to Chair an organisation that has the potential to be a very positive force for good throughout the game and across society.”
What has the reaction been to her appointment?
The appointment of the first female chair to the FA’s board in its 157-year history has been largely positive. Reacting to the news, Gary Neville, the former England and Manchester United defender, said on social media: “This is an outstanding appointment. The FA have a chance to modernise here if they allow Debbie to do her work.” Stephanie Hillborne, the CEO of Women in Sport, said: “Great news of progress for women in sport. Good luck to our first woman in the chair of [the] FA. So much progress made but so much more to do.”
Why is The FA in breach of the sports governance code?
Even if her position on the FA board is ratified next month, the FA would remain in breach of the country’s sports governance code, which stipulates that 25 per cent of sports boards shall be independent, non-executive directors. At present, Kate Tinsley is the only other independent non-executive director on the body’s 10-person board. Despite welcoming Hewitt’s nomination, Sport England said the FA should address its shortfall in non-executive members, “as a priority”. The FA has indicated it will look to address that challenge now that Hewitt has been nominated.
The FA Council is expected to formally ratify Hewitt at its next meeting on July 22, before starting the role in January 2022. The delay in her start date is because she has six months left in her current role as the non-executive chair of British dining chain, The Restaurant Group.