UK to establish an independent football regulator to oversee clubs

Powers will include the ability to fine clubs up to 10 per cent of turnover for non-compliance with financial regulations

Football fans leave Wembley Stadium. The bill will ensure supporters' voices 'are front and centre' said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Getty Images
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The UK government plans to establish an independent football regulator to oversee clubs in England's top five tiers of the men's game to encourage financial stability.

The regulator, which will be created by a bill introduced in parliament on Tuesday, will act autonomously from government and football authorities.

It will have the power to fine clubs up to 10 per cent of their turnover for non-compliance with financial regulations, the government said in a statement.

The legislation will strengthen tests of the suitability of those running clubs and block “closed-shop competitions” such as the frequently proposed European Super League.

“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,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

“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.”

What is happening?

The Football Governance Bill, the legislation underpinning the creation of the new regulator which will license clubs in the top five tiers of English football, will be brought before Parliament on Tuesday.

The regulator's key responsibilities will be ensuring clubs are financially sustainable, making the sport more financially resilient between leagues and safeguarding English football's heritage.

The Conservative Party promised a fan-led review of football governance in their manifesto for the General Election in December 2019.

The review was commissioned in April 2021 in the immediate aftermath of the bid by the Premier League's “Big Six” to join a Super League that did not have the backing of Uefa.

The review's key recommendation was the creation of an independent regulator and we have now finally reached the start of the process to establish it in law.

What are the key details?

Arguably the most eye-catching aspect remains the regulator being given “backstop powers” to sort out the financial distribution between the Premier League and English Football League, which has taken on added significance since the two organisations still appear a long way off reaching an agreement themselves.

Exactly what will trigger the regulator's backstop powers – and precisely what those powers will be – is not yet clear.

The government also said the regulator would have the power to fine clubs up to 10 per cent of turnover for the most serious breaches of licence terms.

It will introduce “stronger tests” for owners and directors of clubs and have the power to disqualify those who persistently and wilfully fail to comply.

Clubs will only be licensed to play in approved competitions, a move designed to prevent any repeat of the Super League scandal.

The licence will also set standards for how clubs engage with their fans, requiring consultation withy supporters on key off-field decisions.

What has the reaction been?

The English Football League (EFL) has welcomed the move.

EFL chairman Rick Parry said: “The EFL welcomes today's arrival of the Football Governance Bill to Parliament in what we hope will be an important milestone to help us secure the long-term financial sustainability of England's football pyramid.”

The Football Association also welcomed the commitment to strengthen independent financial regulation within the sport, while the Football Supporters' Association (FSA) said: “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.”

However, David Sullivan, the owner of Premier League club West Ham United, said he was opposed to the establishment of a regulator and suggested it would be expensive and inefficient.

“The Premier League is the best league in the world so why change a winning formula?” he told Sky News.

“I hope the government don't wreck something that works. This means we will be competing with teams from leagues in Europe who give a fraction of the money Premier League clubs give to both the EFL and grass roots football.

“If over the coming seasons the Premier League ceases to be the best league in the world, it will be down to an interfering government.”

Updated: March 19, 2024, 9:01 AM