The withdrawal of six English Premier League clubs from the European Super League highlights the need to examine the governance of football, the UK culture secretary has said, pledging “we will not have our national game taken away from us for profit”.
Oliver Dowden paid tribute to the fans whose pressure prompted the withdrawal of the six English clubs initially signed up for the breakaway competition, leaving the project in tatters, but warned that more needed to be done.
Speaking on Sky News on Wednesday, he said: “It’s very important that we don’t see this as the end of the process. What this is highlighting, more than ever, is the need to look at the wider governance of football … to look at how we address local governance, football finance and indeed the whole fan experience.”
On Monday, Dowden launched a governance review into football – initially pledged in the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto – to be led by the former sport minister Tracey Crouch. Among the issues the review will examine are the financial sustainability of the men’s and women’s game, how finance flows through the game at different levels, the merits of an independent regulator and how fans can have a greater say in the oversight of the game.
But the threat from the ESL – which prompted Dowden to announce the review – remains, with it vowing to reshape the project, which has amplified fans’ longstanding concerns about financial disparities in the game and the greed of billionaire club owners.
Dowden said: “I met with the president of Uefa on Monday and I’ll be … speaking to him again later today. We’ve been absolutely resolute in saying that we will not have our national game taken away from us for profit.
“This is as much part of our national heritage as our great stately homes, our galleries, our museums out our theatres, our cathedrals, and we as a government will do whatever it takes to step up to protect it. And I’m very glad that working with fans, we have given strength to fans in stopping this and I pay tribute to all of the fans – and we saw it last night with Chelsea fans – they won’t put up with this and I’m glad that clubs have listened to it.”
He said the review would also also consider whether fans should be able to take a stake in their clubs in the way that German fans can.
“The German clubs didn’t participate in this [Super League] proposal. One of the points that was made to me by fans when the prime minister and I met with them was the fact that there was that financial stake,” he told LBC radio.
“I think we should look at it,” he said. International investment in football has been a good thing. It has increased the quality of the game and the players and everything else … but I do think it is right that we look at how fans can have a stake in the game.”
Chelsea were the first Premier League to pull out on Tuesday, only 48 hours after Sunday’s bombshell announcement about the creation of the league. Manchester City were next, before Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham completed the U-turn by English clubs.
They had been the subject of a furious backlash of fans, players and managers over the past two days. The UK government had threatened legislation to derail the project, while there was also a royal intervention from Prince William.
The Football Association, European and world governing bodies Uefa and Fifa had threatened sanctions on clubs and bans for players at rebel clubs.
On Tuesday morning, Boris Johnson tweeted: “I welcome last night’s announcement. This is the right result for football fans, clubs, and communities across the country. We must continue to protect our cherished national game.”
The Italian clubs Milan and Internazionale were expected to announce their withdrawal on Wednesday, leaving a third Serie A club, Juventus, and the Spanish trio of Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona as the last standing members of the breakaway group.