UK government backs ‘radical reform’ of English football

The UK government on Thursday backed “radical reform” of English football under a new independent regulator that would shake up the governance and financial oversight of the game.

Following a review of the sport published on Wednesday, Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, pledged to work “at pace” to introduce a new regulator that would supersede the authority of existing bodies such as the Football Association, the national governing body, and the Premier League, the top tier of English club football.

Powerful figures within the game — including a campaign group led by David Bernstein, former FA chair, and Gary Neville, the pundit and ex-Manchester United player — have backed the plans but one Premier League club chief executive poured scorn on a recommendation to redistribute further funds to lower leagues.

The review, chaired by Tory MP and former sports minister Tracey Crouch, called for the regulator to have powers to block change of ownership of clubs, give supporters vetoes over key decisions and redistribute funds from the Premier League to lower leagues by placing a levy on player transfers at the top of the game.

In a written ministerial statement on Thursday, Dorries said: “The primary recommendation of the review is clear, and one the Government chooses to endorse in principle today: that football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game.”

A Bury fan at the gates of Gigg Lane after the club was expelled from the English Football League in August 2019
The collapse of Bury FC in 2019 was one of the crises to have hit football in recent years that led to the review © Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Crouch told the Financial Times on Wednesday evening that the package of 10 strategic recommendations and 47 detailed recommendations was “holistic” and should be implemented in full to make football financially sustainable. The government will consider the findings and provide a full response in spring 2022.

The “fan-led” review was prompted by crises that have rocked the sport: the collapse of Bury football club in 2019; aborted plans by six top Premier League clubs to join a breakaway European Super League earlier this year; and the impact of coronavirus, which led to a revenue shortfall of £2bn across the sport in England.

Noting these difficulties, Dorries said “current oversight of the game is not up to the challenge” of resolving financial problems within the game.

Campaign group Our Beautiful Game, led by Bernstein and of which Neville is a member, said the “game deserve nothing less” than independent oversight.

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The group said in a statement on Wednesday: “Today is an important moment in the long history of our national sport. The burden of maintaining the momentum for an independent regulator for English football now falls clearly on parliament, and on the government itself. Legislation will be needed to turn the recommendations from today’s report into reality.”

The FA also welcomed the publication and the Premier League acknowledged “the call for some form of independent regulation”, but both declined to comment on the government’s endorsement of the review.

However, Christian Purslow, chief executive of Premier League club Aston Villa, told the BBC’s Today programme that the government risked “killing the golden goose if we over-regulate a highly successful financial and commercial operation”, saying the league had already committed to redistribute £1.6bn over the next three years.

He also rejected claims that an independent regulator would have blocked the controversial £305m takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian-led investment group, given that “the policy of our government is that Saudi Arabia is an ally with whom we have extensive trading relationships”.


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