Landmark football governance bill introduced to create independent regulator

A landmark football governance bill has been introduced in UK parliament to confirm the creation of an independent football regular.

The independent football regular will have powers to prevent breakaway competitions such as the European Super League, strengthen the owners and directors’ test and hold backstop powers around financial distribution between the Premier League and English Football League (EFL).

It comes over three years since the fan-led review called for the introduction of a regulator in November 2021. The government announced plans for one in February 2023.

The regulator will be independent from the government and football authorities, and will be “equipped with robust powers revolving around three core objectives: to improve financial sustainability of clubs, ensure financial resilience across the leagues, and to safeguard the heritage of English football”.

The failed Super League project in April 2021 — which Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea attempted to join alongside other European clubs – came at the beginning of the fan-led review and only strengthened calls for an independent regulator.



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Under the new legislation, breakaway, closed-shops competitions like the European Super League will be blocked.

Last week, the Premier League again failed to agree a funding package for the EFL as part of the ‘New Deal for Football’, despite pressure from the government.



EFL ‘clearly disappointed’ at PL’s failure to agree funding deal

The bill includes backstop powers on such financial distribution. This means “if the leagues fail to agree on a new deal on financial distributions, then the backstop can be triggered to ensure a settlement is reached”.

New owners and directors will also face “stronger tests to stop clubs falling into the wrong hands”. They could be removed and prevented from owning football clubs if deemed unsuitable, and follows the financial mismanagement at Bury and Macclesfield.



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The legislation will also “give fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs” to stop owners from changing club names, badges and home shirts. Fan engagement is cited as “central” to the bill, with a number of clubs already having launched fan advisory boards since the fan-led review.

What has the Premier League said?

While the Premier League acknowledged the need for sustainability, it expressed “concern” about the bill negatively impacting the competitiveness of English football.

A Premier League statement read: “The government has consistently stated that it wishes to support the Premier League’s continued global success which generates funding to help sustain the entire football pyramid. With our clubs, we have advocated for a proportionate regime that enables us to build on our position as the most widely watched league in the world.

“Mindful that the future growth of the Premier League is not guaranteed, we remain concerned about any unintended consequences of legislation that could weaken the competitiveness and appeal of English football.”

What has the EFL said?

The EFL welcomed the bill, with chair Rick Parry describing his hope that this will be “an important milestone to help us secure the long-term financial sustainability of England’s football pyramid”.

“If delivered on the right terms,” Parry said in a statement, “this landmark legislation can help fix the game’s broken financial model by offering the independent input ultimately needed to help ensure that all Clubs can survive and thrive in a fair and competitive environment.”

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EFL chair Rick Parry (Visionhaus/Getty Images)

‘A remarkable moment for a sport that has resisted external oversight’

Analysis from The Athletic’s Matt Slater

Almost three years have passed since the Premier League’s six richest clubs announced they wanted to play in a European Super League that would entrench their positions at the top of the pile and dramatically hit the finances of domestic leagues across the continent.

It was an act of greed and stupidity that convinced Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there might be some votes in standing up for football’s lower and middle-classes.

We are in the last few months of the government run by the guy (Rishi Sunak) who replaced the woman (Liz Truss) who replaced Johnson but, for fans of good governance and clubs in the English Football League, the wait has been worth it.

Confirmation, at last, that Sunak’s government will introduce the football governance bill outlined by the fan-led review Johnson commissioned in 2021, means the English game is going to get an independent regulator.

It is a remarkable moment for a sport that has defiantly resisted external oversight for so long, at times striding from success to success, at others lurching from crisis to crisis. The Premier League, in particular, has been so opposed to interference that it broke away from the English Football League in 1992 and has spent the last three decades largely ignoring the game’s governing body, the Football Association.



How did the Premier League change English football?

Whether the as-yet-unformed independent regulator for football will do any better than the FA in keeping the Premier League’s more selfish moments in check, while encouraging its noble instincts for self-improvement and excellence, remains to be seen.

But the FA never had a head start or suite of powers like the regulator: a robust licensing system, control of the owners’ and directors’ test and, most importantly, “backstop powers” to enforce a fairer financial distribution between the Premier League and EFL if, as they have so amply demonstrated, fail to agree on one themselves.

That last one is the most eye-catching and contentious of the powers — it is also the clearest sign that this represents a defeat for those clubs in the Premier League who thought this government would not have the stomach or time to force them to share more of their enormous media income with the rest of the pyramid. That now looks like a stunning miscalculation.

It probably also represents a victory for the EFL, especially its chairman Rick Parry.



Warring clubs, breakaways and teams going out of business – running the EFL is the impossible job

The Premier League’s first chief executive, and an ex-chief executive of one of the “Sneaky Six”, Liverpool, he has fought the good fight for greater financial sustainability throughout the professional game. Parry has not won the bout yet but he is ahead on points going into the final rounds and he now has a friendlier set of judges to impress.

(Top photo: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

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