UK government introduces Football Governance Bill

Featured image credit: Tim Bechervaise on Unsplash

The UK government has introduced a Football Governance Bill that will lead to the formation of an independent regulator for the professional men’s game in England.  

The government said the regulator, which will be enshrined into law, will give fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs and promote financial sustainability. The regulator will have the ability to fine clubs up to 10% of turnover for non-compliance.

All clubs will be subject to new baseline requirements enshrined in legislation irrespective of licence status, such as protections against breakaway competitions and stadium relocations.

The new legislation will block breakaway closed-shop competitions such as the failed European Super League, which six Premier League clubs initially supported before backing down after fan protests.

The regulator will also implement strengthened owners’ and directors’ tests and be equipped with backstop powers to impose a ‘new deal’ on financial distributions. The regulator will be independent of both the government and the football authorities.

The three core objectives of the body will be to improve financial sustainability of clubs, ensure financial resilience across the leagues, and safeguard the heritage of English football.

The Football Governance Bill also includes new backstop powers around financial distributions between the Premier League, English Football League and the National League. As a result, if the leagues fail to agree on a new deal on financial distributions, the backstop can be triggered to ensure a settlement is reached.

For the first time, clubs from the National League through to the Premier League will be licensed to compete in men’s elite football competitions in England. The government said the proposed licensing regime will be proportionate to any problems, size and circumstances and involve a system of provisional and full licences to give clubs time to transition.

The Premier League said it will study the bill in cooperation with the government, parliamentarians and key stakeholders. In a statement, the Premier League said it remains concerned about any “unintended consequences” of legislation that would weaken the competitiveness and appeal of English football.

The EFL welcomed the introduction of the Football Governance Bill, with chair Rick Parry stating the legislation can help fix the sport’s “broken financial model” if delivered on the right terms.

Plans for the introduction of an independent football regulator were confirmed in November during the King’s Speech. King Charles said the regulator would seek to put fans back at the “heart of football” and help deliver a sustainable future for all clubs.

It came after the UK government announced plans in February 2023 to introduce a new independent regulator for men’s professional football in England.

Speaking yesterday (Monday), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Football has long been one of our greatest sources of national pride. Up and down the country, it brings people together in celebration or commiseration.

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

“This bill is a historic moment for football fans – it will make sure their voices are front and centre, prevent a breakaway league, protect the financial sustainability of clubs, and protect the heritage of our clubs big and small.”

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters Association, added: “The regulator provides a means to intervene and stop clubs being run into the ground, protect the heritage of clubs, give supporters a much bigger voice in the running of the game, and prevent any chance of domestic clubs joining a breakaway European Super League.

“The regulator must be given the power to impose a financial settlement in the interests of the sustainability of the game as a whole. It is far too important to be left to the squabbling between the vested interests of the richest club owners.”