23 February 2023

Independent regulation ‘a much healthier form of governance’ says fans’ chief

23 February 2023

Plans for independent regulation of English football represent a potential “new beginning” for the sport, a fans’ chief has said.

A Government White Paper published on Thursday confirms a regulator, underpinned by statutory powers, will be created to licence professional clubs in England.

Clubs will only be licensed if they meet criteria around financial sustainability, the suitability of their owners, their fan engagement and their willingness to only enter approved competitions.

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said the changes were essential, with football having failed in his view to demonstrate an ability to self-regulate.

“I’ve been involved in fan representation for over a quarter of a century and I have witnessed Governments holding the football authorities to account for inadequacies in their governance many, many times over that period,” he said.

“Every time they have said to the football authorities ‘you need to get your act together in terms of governance’ and the football authorities have said ‘yeah, of course we will, we’ll sort it out’.

“And when the pressure goes away and the scrutiny retreats, they go back to normal and go back to type. At last, the Government have said ‘you’ve had your chance, we will now introduce independent regulation of the game’. I think it’s a much healthier form of governance.

“If you haven’t got football clubs making up their own rules that they want to abide by and marking their own homework, having that independently regulated market is a potential new beginning here.”

The White Paper comes in response to a fan-led review of football, with Miles part of the review panel that issued its recommendations in November 2021.

I think it's a much healthier form of governance

Clubs will be subject to greater financial scrutiny, the Government promises tests on new owners and directors will be strengthened and fan veto powers enacted by the Football Association will be backed by the regulator.

The regulator will also have targeted powers to intervene if football cannot agree on a new financial distribution settlement.

“There’s an understandable instinct to say, well, football should be able to regulate itself, and it’s taken bitter experience of proving that the football authorities have not been able to do that,” Miles added.

“It’s not because they’re bad individuals – the rulebooks are determined by the owners of the clubs. The owners of clubs have not proved willing to set rules that exact a high standard of governance, because it’s not in their immediate, short-term financial interest to do so.

“Football is too important to be governed on that basis.”

Human rights research and advocacy group FairSquare says the Government has missed a chance to address what it sees as arguably the biggest threat to the financial sustainability of the English game – state ownership of clubs.

“State ownership poses an unprecedented threat to the English game and to European football more broadly and this White Paper leaves English football wide open to the worst type of manipulation,” the group said.

State ownership poses an unprecedented threat to the English game and to European football more broadly and this White Paper leaves English football wide open to the worst type of manipulation

Football reform group Fair Game gave the White Paper a report card, with marks ranging from A* for financial regulation to an F for equality, diversity and inclusion, which is not set to form part of the regulator’s remit.

Fair Game chief executive Niall Couper said: “There is a lot to be welcomed in the White Paper – stronger rules on financial regulation, the introduction for the first time of a corporate governance code, and protection of a club’s heritage.

“While there are lots of positives in the document, as our scorecard has revealed, there are still a few issues that need to be resolved – notably financial flow and whether the regulator will have the teeth it needs.

“However, for the first time, there is now a path to deliver meaningful change. We need political will to strengthen the proposals, produce a firm legislative timetable, and drive this White Paper through the parliamentary process to change our game for the better.”

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