New independent regulator won’t intervene on issue of state ownership

State ownership was described as a ‘matter for the foreign office’ despite a warning from human rights groups that it leaves English football ‘open to the worst type of manipulation’

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 23 February 2023 17:14 GMT
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Sports Minister Stuart Andrew has said that state ownership of football clubs will be “a matter for the foreign office”, as the government White Paper was criticised by a leading human rights group for containing no mention of "arguably the biggest threat to the English game".

Despite Manchester United prospectively becoming the third English club to be owned or run by a state in Qatar, and potentially being used as a sportswashing vehicle, the document did not contain any provision of human rights. Andrew did say that they would look at “other regulatory bodies to see what mechanisms they are using”.

The Sports Minister meanwhile urged the Premier League, EFL and wider game to “get round the table” and agree a financial package about redistribution, to prevent the proposed independent regulator having to step in. It was meanwhile anticipated that there would be no issue with the regulator running afoul of Fifa’s rules on government interference.

The only reference to anything related to state interests was as regards the forced sale of Chelsea after the sanctioning of Roman Abramovich, and the need to insulate clubs from shocks like "a geopolitical shift".

Human rights group FairSquare have criticised this stating: "Government regulation of football is long overdue and welcome and the White Paper addresses the key issues. Unfortunately it is silent on the biggest threat to the vitality, integrity and sustainability of the game. State ownership poses arguably the biggest threat to the English game and to European football more broadly and this white paper leaves English football wide open to the worst type of manipulation."

When pressed on state ownership of clubs, Andrew told media: “We are not venturing into the area of foreign policies. This will very much be looking at the individuals who are wanting to buy clubs or who are running clubs.

“As part of the consultation there will be opportunities for people to raise those sorts of issues. As far as we’re concerned, the really important thing is that those individuals are subjected in the way that the other individuals will be by other regulators - the financial world for example - they have to pass those fit and proper tests but we also have to know where their sources of funding are covering from.

“Any issues around foreign policy would of course be a matter for the foreign office.

We recognise we have had significant international investment from all over the world in English football, but what we’re trying to do is get down to who is the original owner and they have to pass the fit and proper person’s test.

“The state side of things is obviously a matter for the foreign office, we’re not talking about foreign policy here, this is about the individuals, who they are, and then against the checks and balances that the regulator will have access to in determining whether or not they pass those tests.”

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew has set out plans for a new independent regulator in football (Martin Rickett/PA)

With the Premier League being pushed to add a human rights provision related to ownership, Andrew was similarly asked why this wasn’t included in the White Paper. The Sports Minister said they would be guided by other industries.

“We will be obviously looking at other regulatory bodies to see what mechanisms they are using. That's the sort of technical detail that we'll be going through as we get preparing for the legislation.

“We are clear that we want that regulator to be able to have the tools that it needs at its disposal to be able to get access to all that information.”

That could see recourse to checks such as scans for “politically exposed persons” [PEP] in financial services but it is understood there is no categorical answer for whether that would apply to a sovereign wealth fund. It could involve the independent regulator assessing individual takeovers on a case-by-case basis.

Andrew meanwhile urged the various stakeholders in English football to come together for a financial agreement. Any agreement still looks “months off” as the Premier League remain completely unwilling to move on their refusal to consider EFL chief Rick Parry’s suggestion of changing the economic redistribution model within the elite competition from 1.65:1 to 2:1 in order to facilitate greater sustainability lower down the pyramid. If no agreement is reached, the independent regulator will intervene.

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“They have started again and we would encourage them to do that,” Andrew said. “The fact that they know that this is definitely coming, that the independent regulator will have at its disposal a fall-back position to resolve the issue. They’ve got the choice now, they can make this happen, they can make the deal and if they don’t then the independent regulator will have to step in. I hope it’s going to encourage them to get on with it.

“I think in fairness the Premier League have expressed the view that more money has to be redistributed and that’s why we are saying to them: ‘Well, if you agree that, get round the table and get that deal done as quickly as possible.’”

Andrew was meanwhile confident that the White Paper and its suggestions would conform to Fifa’s rules on interference. FIFA statute 15c says “national association statutes are to be independent and avoid any form of political interference”.

“It is about continual engagement and these are the things we have been careful in doing,” Andrew said. “We have been engaging with a load of stakeholders in this but the emphasis that is being made here is that it is about the financial side of things.”

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