The British government has passed a reform of English football that will see more scrutiny, particularly in terms of finances, but also on heritage preservation issues such as the name, colours, stadium and uniforms, as well as tackling diversity issues. At the moment everything is in the realm of ideas and approval is just the first step to put it into practice, perhaps only in 2024 – one of the reasons for criticism of the opposition, incl.
English football has suffered from a precarious financial situation for the clubs. Perry was excluded from the Football League in 2019 after filing for bankruptcy. Other clubs saw a similar situation, such as Bolton, Macclesfield Town, Wigan Athletic and Derby County, which lost points to their entry into bankruptcy, which culminated in relegation to the third division. All of this was even stronger after the idea of Superliga, when the government finally started talking openly about taking action.
The reform became a vigorous agenda after the rise and relegation of (for the time being) the Super League, which had six English clubs. With the collapse of the Superliga, the English government took the opportunity to say that it will examine the governance of football in the country.
It was actress Tracey Crouch who took the lead in putting together a proposal with changes, especially in terms of independent regulation – from governments and clubs. It was from her suggestion that a review was created with fan participation, with many recommendations.
There are three main points in the current reform, in general:
- Establish a strong independent regulator with legal backing to ensure sustainability
- Improving testing for owners and managers, including integrity testing, to improve corporate governance and protect clubs and fans from unscrupulous owners
- Protecting fans with a kind of ‘golden engagement’, with veto power over changes such as name, colours, shield and stadium
The government has also confirmed that it will follow recommendations to create a kind of shadow council, a concept already used in British politics, when the opposition has a minister, for example, who exercises an oversight function.
The idea is that fans form this shadow board, which will have the voice to make more strategic decisions, such as changing the name, colors, stadium, or even uniforms. However, the government has not detailed how this will be done and has promised a European summer, when the season is over.
Another important point is the promotion of equality and diversity on club boards throughout the football pyramid. The government will also specify the details and how this will be overseen by the independent regulator.
Premier League clubs and leagues (second tier) are in conflict with a new UEFA regulation that says total spending on salaries, transfers and agent commission cannot exceed 70% of total revenue.
The independent regulator will have the authority to oversee the clubs’ financial oversight, including information collection, and investigative and enforcement powers. The review also recommended looking at the financial distribution, including solidarity payments (that percentage, up to 5%, related to player training between 14 and 21 years old).
The government believes that the first to deal with this are the football authorities and it remains unclear how the independent regulator will be able to exercise this authority in the event of a breach. This will still come in the document to be released.
The English Premier League rejects the independent regulator
The government decided to follow the 10 strategic recommendations made by cheerleaders and published by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch in November 2021. The focus was on improving financial sustainability and corporate governance in football in the country, which has been heavily criticized for the disastrous state of the game. Many clubs, especially smaller ones. The idea is also to give more power to the fans to participate in the club day in and day out, albeit in a minority way.
The Premier League, however, rejects the idea of an independent regulator and says it is “not necessary”. According to the league, an integrity test review of owners and directors is already underway ahead of next season to ensure fans are heard.
This has been the point of a lot of criticism, especially in recent months, for the way Newcastle has been sold to the Saudi government. Premier League clubs have criticized the decision to approve the sale, given all the human rights issues related to the Saudi government. The pressure was so great that Premier League chairman Gary Hoffman was forced to announce his stepping down.
Johnson: “The government will ensure that the fans are at the heart of the game”
“It has been more than a year since the failed attempt in the European Premier League, but it is clear that a radical change is necessary to protect the future of our national game,” said Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston.
“We will work at a rapid pace to create a strong and independent regulatory body. However, the football authorities can take action now to address current problems in the sport, such as the issue of equitable distribution of funds across the football pyramid and giving fans a greater voice in the management of their clubs,” Huddleston continued.
“Football brings friends, families and communities together and that is why we are moving forward with fan-led plans to secure the future of our national sport, from investing £230m to raise the bar at the grassroots level to strengthening the voice of fans in running,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “Wherever you’re cheering, at home or abroad, this government will ensure that fans get back to the heart of the game.”
The Minister of Culture, Nadine Doris, commented on the matter. “Football is nothing without fans and for a long time the football authorities collectively have not been able to solve some of the biggest problems in the sport,” the minister said. “The government took critical steps to conduct a fan-led review and today we endorse both the 10 strategic recommendations and the approach laid out by Tracy Crouch.”
“We are now committed to fundamental reform, putting football on a more sustainable financial path, strengthening corporate governance for clubs and increasing the influence of fans in the management of national sport,” the culture minister continued.
Football governance in the country is a “joke”
Although the government’s initiative is well appreciated, the opposition criticizes delays in implementing measures – only from 2024, at best. “The commitment to introduce an independent regulator is a welcome step, but the government must now start creating one for the health of our national sport,” said Julian Knight, a Labor MP.
“Events such as the ridiculous Europa League proposal and the difficulties for survival faced by clubs in our societies have exposed the governance of football in this country for the joke that it is.”
“With no strict deadline for tackling the deep-rooted issues plaguing the game and no move to dismiss the regulator ahead of legislation, it appears the government has stopped the bus, when they should have gone straight to the brink to deliver fans” in the best interest. Nate continued.
The FA approves a separate regulation: ‘Some clubs have spent more than they can afford’
The Football Association (FA), the English Football Association, approved the government measure. “English football is the envy of the world, but with success come challenges. While many clubs are the center of their community and are thriving, some have spent beyond their means to achieve success,” a representative told Sky Sports.
“We agree that stronger financial regulation and cost controls are needed in English football to ensure fans and sustainability come first. New independent regulation is needed and we will continue to work with the government to ensure the future of clubs is protected while supporting the attractiveness of English football.”
Opinion: A good sign, but it’s still too early to celebrate
There is still a long way to go to see what will happen and if this all pays off. Since the deadline is still undetermined and can only be applied in 2024, precisely because the government has not done much about it, there is a lot to do and a lot to be suspicious of. Especially as the Premier League immediately set itself up against a crucial point, the independent regulator. However, it’s an initiative that sounds interesting, at least if you don’t keep it in a drawer and practice it.
It might be an interesting initiative for other countries to reflect themselves and for us to be more interested in sustainability in football. Something Brazilian football urgently needs, given that the clubs here spend as they please, fall into debt to try to win titles and create constant distortions that reward irresponsible management.