The English Football Association has hired Debbie Hewitt from The Restaurant Group as its chair, making her the first woman to hold the position at the governing body for the sport.
The appointment comes seven months after Greg Clarke was forced to quit the role for using “unacceptable” language in front of British parliamentarians.
Hewitt takes over the governing body as the sport seeks to recover from the financial blow of the pandemic, which has largely kept fans out of stadiums since March last year.
English football is also reeling from the attempted European Super League, a breakaway competition that was backed by Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City until criticism from fans and politicians forced them to withdraw their support for the project.
“As the events in recent months have shown, this is a significant moment in time for English football, with a clear purpose for all stakeholders to secure the long-term health of the game at all levels,” said Hewitt.
The UK government has established a formal review of governance in football. Led by former government minister Tracey Crouch, the review will explore ownership models, finances and the potential for an independent football regulator.
The FA is also aiming to expand participation and audience figures in women’s football, which has become a major focus after decades of neglect.
The governing body has said it is budgeting for a “profit impact” from Covid-19 of £300m over the four years to 2024. The FA recorded a pre-tax profit of £2.9m on revenues of £335m in the year to the end of July 2020, down from £57m of profit and £466m of revenue the prior year, as the pandemic hurt ticketing, sponsorship and broadcast revenue.
Hewitt is stepping down at the end of the year from the Restaurant Group, the owner of Wagamama, which she has chaired since 2016. She also chairs Visa Europe, BGL Group and White Stuff.
The FA, which was formed in 1863, said that Hewitt was the unanimous choice. She will start the job in January. Peter McCormick, the lawyer and former interim chair of the Premier League from 2014-15, will continue as FA chair until then.
McCormick stepped in to replace Clarke, who referred to “coloured” footballers while giving evidence to MPs, and said gay players made a “life choice” in relation to their sexuality.
“The FA have chosen Debbie for her extensive chair expertise across a wide range of business sectors, and there is no doubt that TRG has benefited from that experience,” said Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group.