An independent regulator is to be created for football in England to make sure clubs are in a “financially healthy position” – but there are fears the lack of a timeframe will allow it to be “kicked into the long grass”.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston formally confirmed the government’s support in a Commons statement for 10 recommendations made in a review of the game by Tracey Crouch last November – with further details to be published in a white paper this summer.
He said many supporters had “felt alienated from their own clubs” and that the review had been “by fans for fans” to build a picture of the “challenges in the game”.
Mr Huddleston said he expected the football authorities to act on the recommendations, particularly over the flow of revenue in the football pyramid – and if nothing happens, “we reserve the right” to ensure the new regulator has powers to address these areas.
The key points include the creation of an independent regulator to ensure the financial sustainability of the game and greater consultation with fans via shadow boards.
The review also recommends the Premier League should make “additional, proportionate contributions” to support the game through fairer distribution of money.
A review of women’s football is set to be held this summer – while the government also plans to consider whether the sale and consumption of alcohol in sight of the pitch should be allowed in the lower leagues of men’s football.
‘Unspecified timeframe is worrying’
Former sports minister Ms Crouch welcomed the government’s support for the reforms, but warned delays in implementing them could be “catastrophic”.
The MP for Chatham and Aylesford said: “While fans will be reassured by the commitment to an independent regulator and its powers, they will remain nervous that this commitment will be delayed or watered down by the vested and conflicted interests in the game which have resisted the much-needed reform for so long.
“Fans fully recognise the complexities of the recommended reforms, but the unspecified timeframe for implementation due to a white paper at some point in the summer is worrying.
“Further delays could be catastrophic for clubs, communities, and fans seeking a more secure and certain regulatory environment.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked on Monday how quickly the independent regulator would be set up and said: “It’s been decades without one.
“But I’m hopeful we will be able to make rapid legislative progress, but we’ll just have to wait.”
The fan-led review followed “three points of crisis” in the game.
These were the collapse of Bury FC, the disruption and financial insecurity caused by COVID-19 – where the “continued existence of many professional football clubs” was threatened – and the involvement of six English clubs in their failed attempt to set up a breakaway European Super League.
Review’s 10 recommendations
The government should create a new independent regulator for English football.
The new body should oversee financial regulation in the game.
New tests for club owners and directors should be established to ensure “only good custodians and qualified directors can run these vital assets”.
A new code for football governance to support long-term sustainability in the game.
Football needs to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in clubs alongside regular assessment.
Supporters should be properly consulted by their clubs in taking key decisions by means of a shadow board.
There should be additional protection for key items of club heritage – with holders of “a golden share” needing to give consent over matters such as the sale of a stadium, club badge, home colours and the club’s playing name.
The Premier League should guarantee its support to the football pyramid and make additional, proportionate contributions to further support the game.
Women’s football should be treated with parity and given its own dedicated review.
The welfare of players exiting the game needs to be better protected, particularly for those leaving at a young age.
‘Financial situation at most clubs is perilous’
Football reform group Fair Game called for a “firm timetable” to be announced alongside the proposed reforms.
Its CEO Niall Couper said: “Football is in crisis. The announcement at last offers a real opportunity to save our game.
“What we need now is a firm timetable for change. There can be no more delay or dithering.
“If reform is allowed to be kicked into the long grass, it will represent the death knell to the hard-working clubs at the centre of our towns and communities.
“The financial situation at most clubs is perilous. For too long the challenges in our national game have been booted down the road by the football authorities and successive governments putting our clubs on the edge of ruin.”
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‘Too many self-interests in the Premier League’
Steve Morgan, the former chairman of Wolves, told Sky News he welcomed the recommendations and hoped it would change the “appalling” way money is distributed in the game.
He said: “When I was in football, and I’m not being clever with hindsight, I always felt that the distribution of capital within football is appalling. It’s for the few, not for the many.
“So I personally welcome this. I think it’s a shame that it’s got this way that football couldn’t regulate itself – and the Premier League in particular. I think there’s too many self-interests in the Premier League.”
Minister for technology and the digital economy Chris Philp told Sky News: “Football clubs are critical parts of our local community.
“This statutory regulator will make sure that football clubs are in a financially healthy position and owners don’t get into the position where they kind of gamble recklessly with the club’s financial future by spending way, way too much, more than they can afford, and putting the club’s future into jeopardy.”
He said the new test for owners and directors would be “ongoing” and “look at questions of integrity, financial resources, capability and capacity to make sure that people who are taking on custodianship of such an important cultural asset like a football club are the people that are going to handle it properly”.