Details of a new charter that will help govern how football is run in the UK have been leaked.
Under the proposed new rules, there will be stricter tests on owners, fans will be given an increased role in how their clubs are run, and the role of independent regulator will be created.
It follows a fan-led review of the game headed by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, which was promoted in part by the fall-out from the European Super League (ESL) which saw six major clubs signal their intention to join a breakaway league, only to hastily withdraw from the project following a furious public backlash.
New impetus to the initiative was given by the perceived need to tighten up the rules on club owners after Roman Abramovich was sanctioned following the Russian armed invasion of Ukraine last February.
These proposals are all part of a UK white paper which is expected to be published next week.
The original review was commissioned in November 2021, when Boris Johnson was still the British Prime Minister. His brief successor, Liz Truss was not keen on the initiative, but the present incumbent of Downing Street, Rishi Sunak, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to it when he took office.
Given the current Conservative government’s majority, most of the White Paper can be expected to be passed into law.
New Owners Test
Prospective new owners of football clubs will now be required to prove that they have acquired their money in a legitimate way, and the proposed new regulator will have the power to conduct substantial due diligence before authorising a takeover.
There is already a ‘fit and proper test” but this is expected to give it more teeth.
Had such a rule been in place back in 2003, then arguably Abramovich would not have been able to buy Chelsea.
Fans are to be given a greater role in how their clubs are run. This means that clubs will not be allowed to change the name, logos or colours of teams without consulting supporters first.
An example cited is the decision by the owner of Vincent Tan to change the colours of Cardiff City from blue to red in 2012. After three years of bitter fan protests, he changed his mind three years later.
The independent regulator
One of the powers granted to the independent regulator will be to stop clubs joining breakaway leagues.
For many, the ESL debacle is still fresh in the mind. In April 2021, six Premier League clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – announced they were proposing to join six European teams in a new European Super league.
Within 72 hours all three were forced to back away from the project after a furious backlash from fans, the public, the media and politicians.
(The ESL continues with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus still part of it, although recent European court rulings mean that it is unlikely ever to get off the ground).
The regulator will be paid for through the levy of an annual fee on teams, with the richer clubs paying more than the smaller ones. Some of the excess money raised, will see a redistribution of funds from the Premier League to the lower leagues.
All teams in the top five tiers of English football must also obtain a legal licence.
To qualify for the licence, clubs must meet a number of criteria, including that the club has fit and proper owners, has financial stability, has suitable fan representation, and plays in approved league and cup competitions.
Sanctions will be imposed on those who contravene these rules.
If the government gets its way, they are hoping to have an independent regulator appointed and empowered for the start of the 2024 – 2025 season.
What has not been defined is what sort of person will fill the role of regulator – there may be a temptation to make it a political appointee, whilst those within the game would prefer it to be somebody who knows the inner workings of English football.
There has been disappointment in some quarters that the regulator is not being tasked with investigating rising ticket prices, a thorny issue for many supporters. However, the clubs are not keen on further regulation, and this was regarded as a bridge too far at this juncture,
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES