Football Governance Bill: Legislation for an independent football regulator is introduced

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Football fans protested outside stadiums following the announcement of the European Super League in April 2021

The UK government will establish independent football regulation when the Football Governance Bill is introduced to Parliament on Tuesday.

The legislation would give powers to a body independent of both the government and the football authorities to oversee clubs in England's top five tiers.

The government announced plans to appoint a regulator in February 2023, following a fan-led review in 2022.

„This is a historic moment for football fans,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

„This will ensure their voices are front and center,” he said. „Football has long been one of the greatest sources of national pride.

„But for too long some clubs have been abused by unscrupulous owners who get away with financial irregularities, which at worst can lead to complete collapse – as we saw in the sad cases of Bury and Macclesfield Town.”

The legislation follows a fan-led review which said a regulator was necessary for the long-term financial sustainability of the men's professional game after problems including financial irregularities and plans for a breakaway European Super League.

Everton and Nottingham Forest have both been deducted points this season for breaching the Premier League Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR).

The regulator will have powers around three main objectives: improving the financial sustainability of clubs, ensuring financial stability across leagues and safeguarding the heritage of English football.

Rick Barry, chairman of the English Football League (EFL), said: „If delivered in the right terms, this landmark legislation will help fix the game's broken financial model by providing the independent input needed to ensure all clubs can survive, thrive and thrive in a fair and competitive environment.”

A Premier League statement said: „Along with our clubs, we have advocated for a proportional regime that will help us create the most widely watched league in the world.

„We are concerned about any unintended consequences of the legislation weakening the competitiveness and attractiveness of English football, bearing in mind that the future growth of the Premier League is not guaranteed.

„The Premier League is fully committed to providing world-leading funding for the wider sport, with £1.6bn distributed across all levels of football over the current three-year period.”

What powers will the regulator have?

While the licensing system is proposed to cover clubs from the National League to the Premier League, new club owners and directors will face strong checks to prevent the possibility of putting clubs out of business, as was the case with Bury and Macclesfield.

As part of their licence, clubs must consult with their fans on key off-field decisions such as club heritage and the club's strategic direction.

„Football is nothing without its fans,” Culture Secretary Lucy Fraser said. “We are committed to putting them back at the heart of the game and ensuring clubs continue to thrive as key community assets.

„The new regulator will set the game on a stable footing, strengthening clubs and the entire football pyramid for generations.”

The bill includes new backstop powers around financial sharing between the Premier League and the EFL to ensure a regulatory settlement can be reached if the two parties fail to agree a 'new deal'.

The government has long warned football officials that an Independent Football Regulator (IFR) would have such powers to intervene.

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch, who led the fan-led review, said: „Football fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the next steps to safeguard the long-term sustainability of the pyramid have now been taken.”

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters' Association, added: „The FSA warmly welcomes the tabling of the Football Governance Bill arising from the 2021 fan-led review, particularly its central proposal to introduce statutory independent regulation of the game.

„The regulator should be empowered to impose a financial settlement in the interests of the sustainability of the game as a whole. It is too important to be left to a fight between the vested interests of wealthy club owners.”

However, campaign group Fair Game said that „at first glance” the bill appeared to „miss the mark” and „failed to secure a guarantee that the regulator would have the power to intervene”.

West Ham owner David Sullivan told Sky Sports: „The Premier League is the best league in the world, so why change a winning formula?

„I hope the government doesn't screw up anything that works. If the Premier League becomes the best league in the world in the future, it will be the government that intervenes.”

He added: „There's almost £2bn of debt between the 20 clubs, so there's not really 'money' to give.”

Chronology

December 2019: The Conservatives are pledging a fan-led review in response to Bury's demise in its 2019 general election manifesto.

2020-21 Season: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, matches are being held behind closed doors, affecting revenue.

April 2021: The proposed European Super League, which would have included six Premier League clubs, collapsed within days amid widespread condemnation from other clubs and players as well as governing bodies, politicians and fans.

October 2021: Amnesty International is urging changes to vetting of Premier League owners and directors to „address human rights issues” following the Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of Newcastle United.

November 2021: An independent regulator is among the 10 recommendations of a fan-led review led by former sports minister Tracey Crouch on how to improve football governance.

November 2022: Representatives of 29 clubs are writing to the government urging plans for an independent football regulator to go ahead.

November 2023: King Charles outlined the government's plans for the Football Governance Bill in his King's Speech.

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