Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in parliament that English football should have an independent regulator. But will it ever actually happen?
Boris Johnson has said, in parliament, that football should have an independent regulator.
It is one the first recommendations the government has adopted from the ‘fan-led’ review it commissioned into the state of English football.
The review was long, and sprawling – the full, 162-page report gave 47 recommendations, outlining changes it said should be made to how the sport is governed. They included regulating the ownership of clubs, player welfare, and wealth distribution in the game.
But… let’s rewind for a moment to understand how we first got here.
“The proposal for an independent regulator has arisen as a result of the perceived failures of self regulation within the football industry, and clubs vote on decisions.
“Those decisions are in the best interest of individual clubs and not for the game as a whole.
“The collapse of Bury football club, the loss of Macclesfield Town football club, and the regular administrations of many other football clubs, especially those in the EFL, gave rise to the view that having an independent party to monitor behaviour, especially in terms of financial regulation and governance, would be a better alternative than what we have at present.”Kieran Maguire
So how likely is it that English football will get an independent regulator?
The review received 20,000 responses from fans, and heard evidence from a wide range of other organisations with an interest in English football.
Since its release, it’s received broad support from fan groups, many of whom see some club owners as too powerful – business owners, rather than custodians of community assets.
But as you might expect, the idea of an independent regulator isn’t universally popular.
“The English Football League (EFL) have been positive, they have done a 180 degree turn on it.
“But the Premier League and the Football Association, the Premier League runs the premier league competition itself. The Football Association runs England and the grassroots. They have been opposed to the recommendations for an independent regulator because they perceive that as a dilution of their existing power base.
“What we have is a few crumbs from the table. Some of the recommendations of the report where issues such as clubs not being allowed to change the colour of their shirts or their badges, which ultimately are pretty trivial issues. I think the main concerns from the Premier League owners was that they did not want a more demanding owners and directors test, because many of them are at some point in time thinking about selling their clubs. And clearly from their perspective, the bigger the pool of potential buyers, the higher the potential price of the club can be sold for.”Kieran Maguire
Essentially, the Premier League and the FA are hugely powerful institutions, that don’t want an independent regulator to take away any of their power.
The FA did offer to create its own regulatory body within the FA.
Chairwoman Debbie Hewitt wrote to members of the FA Council telling them that financial regulation in football is not working as well as it should and ‘change is required’.
She wrote: ‘The regulator could be an independent arm of the FA, with its own independent governance using our experience of regulation and the game to create governance that works across football.’
Critics of this approach argue that while this is an independent regulatory arm within the institution, it could still be construed as marking your own homework.
Some have also suggested that creating an independent regulator could be legally tricky too. You’re trying to police the way private institutions can, or should, work.
But for Kieran Maguire, this argument doesn’t hold much water
“We have regulation of the energy industry. We have regulation of the water industry and they are both private. We’ve got Ofcom with regards to broadcast media and the print media, many of which are privately owned as well.
“The reason why is that it’s different to a private business in the sense that if my local butcher goes bust, I go to the next village and get my meat from the next butcher. If Derby County go bust, Derby County fans don’t sit around that table and think, well, okay, should we now go and support Burton Albion or Nottingham Forest or Chesterfield as those are the nearest football clubs to Derby.”Kieran Maguire
However, for all its intentions, goodwill from fans, and the Prime Minister saying football should get an independent regulator, the fan-led review’s author, MP Tracey Crouch, says she is ‘nervous’ that any delays to legislation establishing one could kill it altogether.
A Bill won’t be included in next month’s Queen’s Speech, which is when the government sets out its priorities for the next parliament, meaning it won’t be until next year that legislation is brought in – potentially right before a General Election is due.
Tracey Crouch said to the Independent: “We had three elections in four years, so my confidence in the stability of a normal electoral cycle is low and I am nervous as to whether it will actually happen.”
The fight for football’s future is likely to be a bitter one – it will be powerful institutions going up against powerful institutions, but the fans have spoken and made their voice clear.
Whether their views count for anything is now in the hands of the government.
Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Imy Harper.