Another yawn-inducing UK Government white paper gets announced, so far so boring… wait it’s going to fundamentally change how football is run in the United Kingdom! Tell me more about the new Independent Football Regulator!
What is the Independent Football Regulator? The creation of an Independent Football Regulator was announced in early 2023 in a “white paper” by the UK government. This was in response to the recent Fan Led Review of Football that was triggered in part due to the attempted formation of the European Super League. An independent football regulator would be a newly created arm of government that would mean football becomes a ‘regulated industry’ and would be subject to significantly increased government oversight.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the proposals would “safeguard the beautiful game for generations to come.” But what exactly does it mean for football, what will fans see changing in the years to come and what sections of football are behind these latest government plans?
The mission statement can be summarized as such:
“These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football and protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs.”
-Department for Culture Media and Sport
Why does Football need an Independent Regulator?
The simplest way to explain the argument as to why there is a call for an independent regulator for football in the UK, is to start with the idea that Football and the clubs that make up the UK football pyramid are historically and culturally significant to the nation.
With recent threats both internal and external coming at football such as financial troubles and the covid-19 crisis, exponentially rising player wages, increased amounts of foreign investment and ownership of clubs, the proposal of “closed league” systems like the European Super League and the increasing effect of wealth accumulating at the top of the football pyramid. Despite the incredible success of the Premier League since 1992, both in terms of expanding the games popularity at home and abroad and in creating immense financial wealth for many involved, teams are often pushing the limits of their finances so far past the brink that they are exposed financially and can’t face going out of business if a few big decisions on or off the pitch go against them.
Much like Financial Fair Play rules that UEFA and other local football bodies are putting in place and reinforcing, the Independent Football regulator would seek to help clubs protect themselves from their own ambition. Sustainability is the word most suitable.
What will the Independent Football Regulator change?
Change in and of itself isn’t the goal of the Independent Football Regulator. The mandate will be focused on protecting the heritage of football and helping to create an environment of sustainability within the game. That said, it may be clear to many that in order to do these two core things, change is very much needed.
The Independent Football Regulators proposed powers are summarized as follows:
- Blocking English clubs from joining breakaway competitions, for example, the European Super League
- Preventing repeats of financial failings seen at many clubs in England
- Introducing a more stringent owners’ and directors’ test to protect clubs and fans
- Greater fan representation, giving fans power to be able to stop owners changing the name of a club, the badge and traditional club colors.
- Making sure a fair distribution of money is sent down the English football pyramid from the Premier League
On the surface these are all reasonable and understandable aims. You would be hard pressed to find anyone with a genuine interest in the future health of English football that would argue against any of the points above. However, these are all aims that are shared by the Premier League, its member clubs and the wider football pyramid. These aims and the creation of the Independent Football Regulator itself have all come as a response to the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch in 2021. The recommendations put forward following that can be summarized as below:
Fan-led review: Key recommendations
- The UK government should create a new independent regulator
- The independent regulator should oversee financial regulation in football
- The independent regulator should establish a new ‘fit and proper persons’ test to replace the existing system which would also include an ‘integrity’ test on potential owners and ‘real time’ financial checks
- Fans should be consulted on all key off-field decisions through a ‘shadow board’
- Equality, diversity and inclusion plans should be mandatory for all clubs
- Key items of club heritage should be protected by a ‘golden share’ for fans
- A new corporate governance code should be set up
- Women’s football should be treated equally and given its own review
- Stakeholders should work to increase protection of welfare of players leaving the game
- There should be more support from the Premier League to the pyramid through a solidarity transfer levy.
Is the Independent Football Regulator a good idea?
This is a very controversial question. While the aims and goals of an Independent Regulator for football are largely supported as being good for the game, the actual requirement to have the industry regulated by the UK government is far from as easy a sell. The Premiership, The Football League and UEFA all have Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules in place that are becoming increasingly more enforceable and fit for purpose. The last decade has seen a huge leap forward in the conversation around how clubs are run. UEFA has this year updated its FFP rules to better tailor them to the modern and ever changing world of football. So if clubs agree on the aims and the main football governance bodies are taking active steps to further regulate the industry, why does the government need to step in at all? Especially the UK government that is home to the Premier League, by far and away the most successful football league in the world that has for decades had measures in place to help distribute wealth down the football pyramid?