England is set to become “the first major nation to make football a government-regulated industry”, according to the Premier League, as the government publishes its white paper on Thursday calling for an independent regulator.
The reaction around the rest of the game and political circles was otherwise universally positive outside the elite competition, with a “delighted” MP Tracey Crouch describing it as “a big day for football in this country”.
The Premier League is understood to fear that regulation could put off future investors and buyers. The league said it would work to prevent “any unintended consequences that could affect the Premier League’s position as the most-watched football league in the world”.
The Independent has been told that a financial agreement on sustainability payments from the Premier League to the rest of the game, as well as parachute payments, is some way off. One source talked of how “there would have to be a freezing over” for the Premier League to consider EFL (English Football League) chair Rick Parry’s suggestion of the top division’s redistribution ratio going to 2-1 to facilitate greater competitive balance among the rest of the game. That could nevertheless play into other stakeholders’ hands, as the strength of the independent regulator will be deepened if the game can’t find “football-led solutions”.
The driving force of the white paper is to “help prevent a repeat of financial failings seen at Derby County, Bury and Macclesfield Town”, but it will also strengthen the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test – which came under scrutiny during the Saudi-led buyout of Newcastle United – while giving fans a greater say in the running of their clubs, particularly regarding heritage such as team names, club crests and stadiums. It is not expected that there will be provisions for states or state funds looking to own or run clubs, which has become a touchstone issue as a Qatar state-influenced bid looks to buy Manchester United.
The white paper will propose powers to block English clubs joining breakaway leagues like the European Super League.
The document was based on the research done for Ms Crouch’s fan-led review, and Ms Crouch was effusive in praise for the document. “This is a big day for football in this country and I am delighted the government has acted on the key strategic recommendations in my review,” she said.
The Premier League was more qualified in its assessment. “We appreciate the government’s commitment to protect the Premier League’s continued success. It is vital that regulation does not damage the game fans love to watch in the deepest professional pyramid in the world, or its ability to attract investment and grow interest in our game.
“We will now work constructively with stakeholders to ensure that the proposed government regulator does not lead to any unintended consequences that could affect the Premier League’s position as the most-watched football league in the world, reduce its competitiveness or put the unrivalled levels of funding we provide at risk. “
The EFL, meanwhile, spoke of how it “has been clear that the English game needs a fundamental financial reset in order make the game sustainable so that all clubs can continue to serve their supporters and communities long into the future”.
It added: “After an extensive period of consultation, the EFL is therefore pleased to note that the government’s announcement regarding an independent regulator proposes to ‘oversee the financial sustainability of the game’ and we welcome that a regulator will have ‘targeted powers of last resort to intervene and facilitate an agreement as and when necessary’, should football be unable to find a funding agreement that safeguards the future of our pyramid for the long term.
“Going hand-in-hand with financial reform, the league is supportive of proposals relating to enhanced regulation and looks forward to consulting with government on matters including club licensing, the owners and directors test and heritage protection in the period ahead.”
The chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, Kevin Miles, said: “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.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak said: “Since its inception over 165 years ago, English football has been bringing people together, providing a source of pride for communities and inspiration to millions of fans across the country.
“Yet despite the success of the sport both at home and abroad, we know that there are real challenges which threaten the stability of clubs both big and small.
“These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football, protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs and safeguard the beautiful game for future generations.”
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