Tracey Crouch fears delays to football reform could be ‘catastrophic’ for game
Tracey Crouch says the Government’s endorsement of the fan-led review she chaired is “an enormous step forward” for major reform in football but says the unspecified timeframe for implementing change is “worrying” for clubs and fans alike.
The Government has today given its formal support to the 10 key strategic recommendations set out in the review, published last November.
These include the creation of an independent regulator to ensure the financial sustainability of the game, greater consultation with fans via shadow boards, additional protections for key items of club heritage and fairer distribution of money from the top of the game down the football pyramid.
It also includes a commitment to work with relevant football bodies and the police to consider the safety and economic case for piloting the sale and consumption of alcohol in sight of the pitch at matches in the men’s lower leagues.
The Government will set out its full response on Monday afternoon following a statement to the House of Commons by Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, with further detail to be published in a white paper this summer.
Crouch gave the Government’s initial response a cautious welcome and said in a statement issued to the PA news agency: “I am grateful to the Government for publishing its response to the fan-led review of football governance.
“I am exceptionally pleased it 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.
Fans fully recognise the complexities of the recommended reforms, but the unspecified time frame for implementation due to a white paper at some point in the summer is worrying.
“This is an enormous step forward in providing much-needed reform for football. I am also very pleased by the commitment to a review of women’s football, as well as to the long overdue review of the outdated legislation relating to football supporters and the sale of alcohol.
“While fans will be reassured by the commitment to an independent regulator and its powers, they will 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.
“Fans fully recognise the complexities of the recommended reforms, but the unspecified time frame for implementation due to a white paper at some point in the summer is worrying.
“Further delays could be catastrophic for clubs, communities, and fans seeking a more secure and certain regulatory environment.”
The Government supports the idea of a regulator backed by primary legislation to provide it with statutory powers to license and sanction clubs and have financial oversight of their operations to ensure they are sustainable.
Deloitte found that in 2018-19 – before the Covid-19 pandemic – Championship clubs were spending 107 per cent of revenue on wages, way above UEFA’s new financial targets of 70 per cent.
The Government backs the idea of the regulator operating enhanced owners’ and directors’ tests, to replace those operated by the Premier League, the EFL and the Football Association, including a new ‘integrity test’ to weed out unscrupulous owners at the time of purchase and on an ongoing basis.
It is not clear yet whether such a test would include human rights issues within its scope.
On financial distribution, parachute payments and the controversial transfer levy recommended in the review, the Government’s preference is that the football authorities can reach a solution but is open to the regulator having backstop powers if they cannot, with Government sources of the view that, as the wealthiest league in the world, the Premier League can stand to give more.
The fan-led review suggested the Premier League and the EFL should be given until the end of 2021 to reach an agreement on financial redistribution or seek external support, which has not happened.
“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.
Further detail on fans’ increased involvement in the day-to-day running of their clubs via shadow boards and the creation of a ‘golden share’ to give supporters a greater say on club heritage matters such as the stadium, kit and badge will be set out in the white paper, the Government said.
The fan-led review was promised by the Conservatives in their 2019 General Election manifesto. It was initially delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but was commissioned by the Government a year ago after the scandal surrounding the foundation of a European Super League.
Huddleston said: “It’s just over a year since the failed European Super League bid but it is clear that radical change is needed to protect the future of our national game.
“We will work at pace to establish a strong, independent regulator. However the football authorities can take action now to tackle issues currently facing the game such as the issue of fair distribution of finances throughout the football pyramid and giving fans a greater say in the running of their clubs.”
Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell said: “While Labour fully support football reform and a new statutory regulator, there’s no dressing up that this announcement will come as a massive disappointment to fans across the country.
“After a government review and many previous promises to legislate, today’s announcement of a further consultation later this year, and a delay to legislation until at least 2024 is a kick in the teeth to proud footballing communities across England.”
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