By: Pramod Thomas
MINISTERS have announced plans for an independent football regulator to oversee the financial sustainability of the men’s game in England, with powers to prevent clubs from joining breakaway leagues.
The regulator would license clubs, requiring them to demonstrate sound financial business models, run robust owners’ and directors’ tests and give fans a greater say in the running of clubs.
It would also have the power to block clubs joining breakaway leagues, appearing to prevent a repeat of any attempt to form a Super League such as the one that proved so unpopular with supporters in 2021.
“Despite the success of the sport both at home and abroad, we know that there are real challenges which threaten the stability of clubs both big and small,” said British prime minister Rishi Sunak.
“These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football, protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs and safeguard the beautiful game for future generations.”
Football Association CEO Mark Bullingham said the FA welcomed the plans, set out in a government white paper — a policy document setting out proposals for future legislation — to be published on Thursday.
“Our response will highlight a critical point made repeatedly by the fan-led review, which recommended that the professional game increases funding of the grassroots game,” he said.
The Football Supporters’ Association also welcomed the proposals.
“The football governance white paper clearly addresses our key concerns around ownership, rogue competitions and sustainability and of course we support any proposals that offer fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs,” said FSA chief executive Kevin Miles.
But the Premier League warned it was vital that regulation did not damage the game.
“We will now work constructively with stakeholders to ensure that the proposed government regulator does not lead to any unintended consequences that could affect the Premier League’s position as the most-watched football league in the world, reduce its competitiveness or put the unrivalled levels of funding we provide at risk,” it said in a statement.
Many expressed concerns
West Ham owner David Sullivan echoed previous concerns expressed by some owners of Premier League clubs, describing the plans for greater regulation as a “terrible idea”.
“The regulator will have a huge staff that football will have to pay for,” he told Sky Sports News. “It will be a total waste of money. I bet it grows in size and cost every year.
“The Premier League is the best run and most successful league in the world. It gives more to the lower leagues and the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) and the grassroots than any other top league in the world. It’s a fantastic export.”
The proposals are based on the recommendations of a fan-led review that ministers commissioned earlier than originally planned in the immediate aftermath of the Super League scandal.
The body’s main purpose would be to oversee a licensing system to ensure clubs are run sustainably, following the collapse of Bury and Macclesfield in recent years.
But it would also be able to step in and force arbitration if the Premier League, the EFL (English Football League) and the Football Association are unable to reach a new settlement on how top-flight finances support the game at lower levels.
The government also plans to introduce a new owners’ and directors’ test, with a focus on the fitness and propriety of new owners and enhanced due diligence.
It is not clear whether there will be any human rights element to the test, despite calls for one from Amnesty International during the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle.
The issue is again in the spotlight as a result of a Qatari bid for Manchester United.
The government said it would embark on further consultation, with plans to bring forward legislation to be announced as soon as parliamentary time allows.