Government backs work from fan-led review and says football requires ‘strong, independent regulator’
The government has backed the work of the fan-led review and insists “football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game”.
The new regulator is the central recommendation of the fan-led review which the government commissioned in April in the wake of the European Super League storm.
In a written statement to Parliament on Thursday, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “The government welcomes the work of the review and will now consider the detailed recommendations ahead of providing a full government response in spring 2022.
“The review demonstrates that there are fundamental issues with our national sport, and that this merits radical reform. Fans across the country want and deserve that reform. We have seen in the past how football has been unable to reform itself and to deliver changes that stop the likes of Bury FC or Macclesfield Town FC going out of business, or which stop clubs breaking away to set up the closed shop of a European Super League.
“We are at a turning point for football in this country. The review is a detailed and worthy piece of work that will require a substantive response and plan of action from across government. But the primary recommendation of the review is clear, and one the government chooses to endorse in principle today: that football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game.
“The government will now work at pace to determine the most effective way to deliver an independent regulator, and any powers that might be needed.
“This is an important review that we hope will lead to change for good in football. The government will now work at pace on how to make that happen.”
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston promised to move “as quickly as possible” to bring forward any legislation needed as a consequence of the review when he attended a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee hearing last week.
Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch hopes the regulator would be fully operational by the start of the 2023-24 season, with the review recommending a shadow regulator be set up at the earliest opportunity.
The Conservative Party included the promise of a review in its 2019 General Election manifesto following the demise of Bury. The subsequent financial shock of the Covid-19 pandemic and then the European Super League have brought the way the English game is regulated firmly into the spotlight, and hastened the decision to start the review.
Arguably the single most surprising recommendation within it was a “solidarity transfer levy” on deals between Premier League clubs and on top-flight sides making overseas signings, to support the English football pyramid.
The review said the proceeds from such a stamp duty system could be “game-changing”.
On the thorny issue of parachute payments, the report said the IREF would have backstop powers to “impose a solution” on the Premier League and the EFL if the leagues could not agree one before the IREF had been created. It noted the “poor history” of the industry in reaching such agreements.
The IREF would take over responsibility for administering the owners’ and directors’ tests from the Premier League, EFL and the Football Association, and control how much cash owners can inject into a club.
The review also proposed the introduction of fixed-percentage promotion and relegation clauses in player contracts.
The report called for the creation of “shadow boards” to give supporters greater decision-making influence and oversight, and on issues such as relocating a club, changing a badge or home club colours, the club name or seeking to enter a competition not sanctioned by the FA, FIFA or UEFA, a ‘golden share’ power of veto would be afforded to a democratically-run Community Benefit Society (CBS).
The report noted that 73 clubs currently have a CBS in the form of a supporters’ trust. It said if the power of veto was exercised, the IREF would arbitrate or appoint arbitrators to settle the dispute.
The review makes 47 recommendations in all, after hearing over 100 hours of evidence and receiving contributions from supporters of 130 clubs.
Clubs entering the EFL should be given a three-year grace period to lay a grass pitch, and the review also calls for the government and the UK Football Policing Unit to work on a pilot scheme to allow the sale of alcohol in sight of the pitch at matches in the National League and League Two.
It also called on the game to provide improved mental health support to players released from the game, particularly at academy level, and for a similar review to be conducted for women’s football.
Julian Knight, the chair of the DCMS committee welcomed the review and said: “For too long professional football in this country has operated with a disregard for fans and for the most basic good business practice.
“What we need now is urgent government action with a Bill before the House. The Secretary of State must look to introduce a football regulator in the next Queen’s Speech.”
EFL chairman Rick Parry said it is “pleasing” the review concluded “additional distributions” from the Premier League are required to support football in this country.
“Above all else, achieving financial stability has to be the number one priority,” he added.
“Reducing volatility and fostering balance throughout the English leagues will provide the bedrock upon which reforms can be built.”
When asked why the Premier League clubs should bail out poorly run EFL clubs, Parry told Sky Sports News: “It is not an us and them. This is a constantly changing grouping of clubs.
“It is not about 72 in the EFL and 20 in the Premier League. That is just a snapshot. It is about the ability of clubs to rise and to fall.
“Simply to say we don’t want to give money to badly run clubs is ducking the issue and offensive.
“We have got great owners; we have got owners who have kept their clubs alive through the pandemic.
“They have shown phenomenal commitment but if we have a better model longer-term where clubs break-even and longer-term more sustainable then frankly, we will have better quality owners going forward.”
‘The game deserves nothing less’
The Our Beautiful Game campaign group, which has the backing of Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville and former FA chairman David Bernstein, released a statement in support of the recommendation for an independent regulator.
It read: “As today’s (Thursday’s) report confirms, the football authorities have had multiple opportunities over decades to introduce significant reforms of their own. They failed.
“We note particularly that the football authorities, even while the enquiry was going on, were unable to speak with one unified voice. No wonder so many professional clubs, and indeed last week the EFL itself, have been won round to support the need for an independent regulator.
“We agree with today’s report when it concludes that neither the government nor parliament should run football.
“Indeed the Crouch Report makes clear that issues such as the running of competitions like The FA Cup, or of the England men’s and women’s teams at all levels, or VAR, or the delivery of grassroots strategy are not matters for an independent regulator.
“But governance reforms and reviewing ways of distributing and increasing funding from the top of the game to the wider football community most certainly should be. So too should the introduction of a new and comprehensive licencing system for the professional game, and driving progress towards diversity and inclusion for all who want to be involved.
“Today is an important moment in the long history of our national sport.
“The burden of maintaining the momentum for an independent regulator for English football now falls clearly on parliament, and on the government itself. Legislation will be needed to turn the recommendations from today’s report into reality.
“The game deserves nothing less.”
Neville: Regulator must maintain PL standard
Speaking to Sky Sports News on Thursday, Neville and Bernstein both agreed that an independent regulator’s No 1 priority should be to “maintain the exceptional standard of the Premier League”.
“Reading that report made me feel warm about the opportunity that exists for football to come together and let’s not forget that at this moment in time the Premier League has lost control of its own members,” Neville said.
“The 14 have got a problem with the six, the six have got a problem with the 14. Project Big Picture and the European Super League divided the Premier League clubs as did the introduction of the Saudi ownership and the divide over the fit and proper owners’ test.
“An independent regulator shouldn’t be something that’s feared by the Premier League. In fact, the independent regulator’s No 1 priority should be to maintain the exceptional standard of the Premier League.
“However, what we do want to see is a fairer game, some stronger financial regulation through the pyramid, a better distribution model whilst maintaining the excellent league that we have.”
Bernstein added: “There’s huge support for this from fans, the wider public, and parliamentarians across the various parties.
“Parliament’s having a difficult time at the moment with credibility and whatever, and I think this is a wonderful opportunity for parliament to show it can work in a mature way, a unified way and do something together which is a win-win.
“It’s a win for the government, it’s a win for parliament and it’s a win for all the parties.
“I think it will show democracy in a very good form and go down extremely well with the public.”