English football set for shake-up as government imposes wide-ranging controls
The UK authorities will publish its White Paper on football governance on Thursday.
A new independent football regulator will have “targeted powers” to step in and resolve how money flows from the Premier League down the pyramid, and to stop clubs from joining breakaway leagues.
The Government will publish its White Paper on football governance on Thursday, and has now confirmed it will act on a recommendation from the 2021 fan-led review of football to create a regulator.
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.
However, the regulator will also be able to step in and force arbitration if the Premier League, the EFL and the Football Association are unable to reach a new settlement on how top-flight finances support the game at lower levels.
Discussions between the bodies are ongoing. The EFL’s chairman, Rick Parry, is looking to secure 25 per cent of all pooled broadcast revenues in a new settlement, alongside the introduction of two to one merit-based payments in the Premier League and Championship and the abolition of parachute payments in a bid to reduce what he sees as the “cliff edge” between the first and second tiers.
Parry had called for the regulator to be given backstop powers and said earlier this week he would be “very negative” if the Government did not address it in the White Paper.
The Government is confident the regulator’s powers will be balanced in such a way that it will not diminish the competitiveness and strength of the Premier League, which in financial terms is streets ahead of even the other ‘Big Four’ leagues in Europe.
The licensing system will enshrine a power of veto for fans on club heritage matters, preventing owners from changing a club’s name, badge or kit without supporter input, and powers to block clubs from joining new competitions which do not meet predetermined criteria, in consultation with the FA and fans.
The formation of the European Super League in April 2021 led to outrage among supporters and prompted the Government to bring forward its plan to commission the fan-led review. It was chaired by former Sports Minister and current Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, and published its recommendations in November 2021.
The regulator will also run an owners’ and directors’ test, with a focus on the fitness and propriety of new owners and enhanced due diligence.
At this stage it is not clear whether there will be any human rights element to the test, which Amnesty International has called on the Premier League to introduce in the wake of the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle and has echoed again amid a Qatari bid for Manchester United.
The review also recommended the introduction of a levy of up to 10 per cent on Premier League transfer deals to support the pyramid and grassroots football. This was heavily criticised at the time by top-flight bosses, with Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear likening it to Maoism.
His Aston Villa counterpart Christian Purslow also warned over-regulation ran the risk of “killing the golden goose” of the Premier League. It is looking unlikely that the levy idea will be taken forward, with the focus on the regulator’s backstop powers at this stage.
The review also recommended consultation on a pilot at selected fourth and fifth-tier clubs allowing the sale of alcohol in sight of the pitch, something the UK’s football policing lead, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, was vehemently opposed to. The Government sees this as a complex issue requiring further work to be done.
The Government says it will now embark on further consultation with the key stakeholders, with plans to bring forward legislation to be announced as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Since its inception over 165 years ago, English football has been bringing people together, providing a source of pride for communities and inspiration to millions of fans across the country.
“Yet 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.
“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.”
The Government also plans to look at the existing visa system for elite footballers in England to examine how the game can continue to attract the best global talent while maintaining strong support for young domestic players to develop from the grassroots level.
Since Brexit, English clubs have been unable to sign under-18 players from overseas.
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