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24 April 2024

Government gives green light to independent regulator for English game

Published
By Reuters

A seismic shake-up of the governance of English soccer including the creation on an independent regulator for the elite game will move closer with the publication of a wide-ranging Government white paper on Thursday.

The long-awaited paper, which has received cross-party support, comes in response to 10 strategic recommendations from a Fan-Led Review of Football Governance chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch in 2021.

Once made law, the Government says the independent regulator would have statutory powers to license and sanction clubs, oversee the financial sustainability of the game and prevent unscrupulous owners buying clubs.

It would also have the power to prevent English clubs joining breakaway competitions such as the European Super League which six Premier League clubs signalled their intent to join in 2021 before abandoning plans after a fans' backlash.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the proposals would "safeguard the beautiful game for generations to come".

"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," he said in a statement from the Department for Culture Media and Sport on Wednesday.

"These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football and protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs."
The Premier League, which has argued against the need for an independent regulator, said the white paper was a "significant moment" for English football, while the Football Association welcomed the commitment to improve the 'financial sustainability and governance of professional clubs'.

LICENSING SYSTEM
Among the powers of the independent regulator would be to implement a licensing system from the Premier League down to the National League (fifth tier), requiring clubs to demonstrate sound financial business models before being allowed to compete.

Fans would also have a greater say in the running of clubs, including any sale or relocation of the stadium, changes to club names and badges and even the colours of home kits.

Although the Premier League, launched in 1992, has been an unprecedented financial success, lower down the English pyramid the situation has been grim.

Sixty-four clubs entered administration in that period with Bury and Macclesfield going out of business and former English champions Derby County on the brink of liquidation last year.

Reacting to the publication of the white paper, Derby owner David Clowes said: "Derby County stared extinction in the face for far too long. We believe it is essential our supporters -- and every other football fan -- are given the strongest possible voice and backing if that helps ensure no other club is threatened in the same way."

Highlighting the need for action, the Government says combined net debt of Premier League and Championship clubs reached 5.9 billion pounds ($7.1 billion) by the end of the 2020-21 season.

Crouch hailed the launch of the white paper a "big day for football" while Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the Football Supporters Association, said: "The Football Supporters Association engaged in the fan-led review from day one and we warmly welcome the historic commitment from the Government to introduce an independent regulator of English football."

The Government will now begin the process of engagement and further consultation with selected stakeholders including the Premier League on the key reforms set out in its white paper.

The Premier League said it recognised the case for change in football governance and would carefully consider the Government's plan for England to become the "first major nation to make football a government-regulated industry".

It insists it has taken action to address issues raised in the Fan-Led Review and that 1.6 billion pounds is being reinvested down the pyramid over the next three seasons.

"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," the Premier League said.

The Government says the independent regulator would have targeted powers as a "last resort" to facilitate agreement on the redistribution of funds.

($1 = 0.8281 pounds)