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English football set for independent regulator

Featured image credit: Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

The UK Government has confirmed plans to introduce a new independent regulator for men’s professional football, with the sale or relocation of clubs’ stadiums among the matters that will require approval.

The regulator will oversee the financial sustainability of English football from the top-tier Premier League to the fifth-tier National League. Clubs will be required to demonstrate “sound financial business models” and good corporate governance as part of an application process before being allowed to compete.

It is hoped the regulator will provide fans with a greater say in the strategic running of their clubs and protect the heritage of clubs by stopping owners changing names, badges and home shirt colours without supporter consultation.

Clubs will also be required to seek regulator approval for any sale or relocation of their stadium, with fan engagement to form a “major part” of the process. New tests will also be put in place for owners and directors, ensuring good custodians of clubs, stronger due diligence on sources of wealth and a requirement for robust financial planning.

The regulator will have the power to prevent English clubs from joining new competitions that do not meet a predetermined criteria, in consultation with the English Football Association and fans. This comes after several English clubs initially backed plans for a European Super League project before backing down following protests by fans.

The move to introduce a regulator comes after the Government’s 2019 manifesto commitment to deliver a fan-led review of football governance in light of failings at Bury and Macclesfield Town. The Government said these two clubs are among 54 instances of a club being put into administration since 1992, when the Premier League was launched.

The Government will present its white paper on football governance in the House of Commons later today (Thursday).

In a statement, the Premier League said the publication of the white paper report is a “significant moment” for English football. The league said it will work constructively with stakeholders to ensure that the proposed regulator does not lead to any “unintended consequences” that could affect the competition’s position as the most-watched football league in the world, reduce its competitiveness or put the levels of funding it provides at risk.

The English Football League (EFL) said it is pleased to note the Government’s announcement regarding an independent regulator, adding that it is supportive of proposals relating to enhanced regulation. The EFL said it will review the white paper in its entirety and will consider its position in full.

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said: “My first major meeting as Sports Minister was with football fans. I heard how some clubs had suffered at the hands of owners who used and abused their stewardship.

“Without fans, football clubs are nothing. That is why today we are putting fans back at the centre of football governance, and creating a stronger foundation for the continued growth and success of English football.

“This new independent regulator will create an even stronger Premier League, English Football League and National League, so our pyramid of elite football remains the envy of leagues the world over.”

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters Association, added: “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 football governance white paper clearly addresses our key concerns around ownership, rogue competitions and sustainability and of course we support any proposals that offer fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs. We look forward to engaging with the Government on the next steps.”

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