Government to introduce independent football regulator in England after backing fan-led review
The government says it will establish an independent regulator in football after endorsing recommendations made in the fan-led review into the men’s game.
The regulator will have power to sanction clubs in English football who break financial and other rules.
A new owners test will be introduced and legislation will give fans more say in the running of the game.
It comes after the review made 10 recommendations to government on how to improve football governance last year.
The review was chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch following a number of high-profile crises in the sport, such as the failed European Super League and the collapse of Bury FC.
Crouch called the government’s endorsement of the review “an enormous step forward” but also said that the unclear timeframe for making the changes is “worrying”.
No direct timeline for implementing the changes has been announced but the government said a white paper – policy documents which set out proposals for future laws in detail – will be published in the summer.
The new regulator will be backed by laws which allow it to hand out punishments and have financial oversight of clubs, meaning it can investigate and gather information.
It will also apply the new “enhanced” owners’ and directors’ test which will replace the current tests carried out by the Premier League, Football League and Football Association.
This follows Roman Abramovich’s ongoing sale of Chelsea amid government sanctions and a Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of Newcastle United in October 2021 among others. Both ownerships were criticised by Amnesty International UK.
The new test will be implemented before acquisition but also on an ongoing basis.
It will include a new ‘integrity test’ for owners and executives and stronger investigations before a purchase, including sources of funding.
“I am exceptionally pleased [the government] has accepted or supported all the strategic recommendations of the review, including committing to legislation for a statutory independent regulator which will regulate financial resilience as well as ownership of clubs,” Crouch said in a statement to PA news agency.
“This is an enormous step forward in providing much-needed reform for football.”
Crouch said she believed fans would welcome the reforms, but “remain nervous that this commitment will be delayed or watered down by the vested and conflicted interests in the game which have resisted the much-needed reform for so long”.
“Further delays could be catastrophic for clubs, communities and fans seeking a more secure and certain regulatory environment,” she added.
Last month, Helen MacNamara, chief policy and corporate affairs officer at the Premier League, told a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee that the league “definitely” does not want a statutory independent regulator.
The government say their white paper will set out plans for “a greater role for fans in the day-to-day running of clubs” and make sure fans have a “bigger say on changes to their club stadia, logo, name and kit via a ‘golden share’, in order to protect clubs and the central role they play as vital community assets”.
The white paper will also aim to improve equality and diversity in club boardrooms.
Crouch’s review recommended looking at financial distribution, including “more support from the Premier League to the pyramid through a solidarity transfer levy, paid by Premier League clubs on buying players from overseas or other top-flight clubs”.
But the government said it believed “that this should be solved by the football authorities in the first instance”.
“It is noticeable and disappointing that there has been no progress on discussions between the football authorities on the redistribution of finances and I share the view of government that this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” Crouch added.
Campaign group Fair Game backed the government’s announcement but said “what we need now is a firm timetable for change”.
“There can be no more delay or dithering,” Fair Game added, going on to say that it was “disappointing that at first glance there is no mention of a new international transfer tax”.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Football is nothing without its fans and for too long the football authorities have collectively been unable to tackle some of the biggest issues in the game.
“The government took decisive action to conduct the fan-led review and today we have endorsed every one of its ten strategic recommendations and the approach set out by Tracey Crouch.”
Analysis – ‘A significant moment in the sport’s history’
Dan Roan, BBC Sport editor
Last month the Premier League told MPs that it was steadfastly opposed to a statutory independent football regulator, so this will be seen as a major defeat for the country’s top clubs, and a significant moment in the sport’s history.
Despite the turmoil sparked by the attempted European Super League, controversy over the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United, and financial meltdown at Derby County, the Premier League had still hoped to persuade ministers to let the FA act as regulator.
But the chaos at Chelsea after the sanctioning of Russian owner Roman Abramovich was perhaps seen as one footballing crisis too many, and the government may have felt it had no choice but to back the key recommendation of Crouch in her ‘fan-led review’. That – along with the commitment to greater supporter engagement – will please many who have been calling for radical reform.
What is not yet clear is whether the beefed-up owners and directors test the regulator will oversee would have prevented any of the club takeovers or financial issues that have blighted the game in recent years, and when exactly it will be brought into law and fully established.
Not everything Crouch called for has been supported. She also recommended that the Premier League clubs pay a “solidarity transfer levy” to further support the football pyramid and redistribute wealth. But for now at least, the government has left this to the football authorities.
That will no doubt be a relief to the Premier League and disappoint clubs in the Football League, who may feel this is a missed opportunity to balance out football’s financial landscape.