Football regulator to 'put fan voices front and centre', but Premier League warns against 'weakening competition'

19 March 2024, 07:40 | Updated: 19 March 2024, 09:16

The new football regulator is set to be introduced
The new football regulator is set to be introduced. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

An independent football regulator would ensure fans' voices are heard, Rishi Sunak has said, as a bill to create the body goes before MPs.

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The independent regulator has long been mooted as a means to rebalance English football, with several lower league clubs struggling financially and going out of business in recent years, and fans of some teams saying they are being ignored.

The regulator will also be able to settle the row over financial distribution between the Premier League and the EFL, which makes up the second, third and fourth tier of English football.

The Football Governance Bill is set to be introduced to Parliament on Tuesday. Among the measures included are:

  • An obligation to consult fans on "key off-field decisions
  • "Backstop powers" to sort out the financial distribution between the Premier League and English Football League
  • New "stronger tests" for new owners and directors to "stop clubs falling into the wrong hands".
  • Licences for all clubs from the Premier League to National League One to take part in competitions, following "a number of issues in recent years including financial mismanagement, breakaway plans for the European Super League, and changes to club names, badges and colours against the wishes of fans"
  • New requirements to protect from "breakaway competitions" and "stadium relocations"

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer | 19/03/24

Lucy Frazer, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said that the regulator would mean that the inner workings of football clubs were more transparent.

"Clubs will have to produce a financial plan, and their owners and directors will be subject to tests, so that we don't see that devastation that we've seen, that has really really devastated fans across the country," she told LBC's Nick Ferrari.

Read more: Super League banned and new owners' test: 'Historic moment for football' as Independent Regulator planned for 2024

Read more: New football regulator will have 'targeted powers' to stop clubs joining breakaway Super League

The regulator is supposed to help football fans
The regulator is supposed to help football fans. Picture: Getty

But football authorities warned that it could affect the competitiveness of the English game, with the Premier League widely regarded as the strongest in the world.

A Premier League statement said on Monday evening: "The Premier League will now study the Football Governance Bill, working closely with Government, parliamentarians and key stakeholders.

"We agree it is vital that football clubs are sustainable, remain at the heart of their communities and that fans are fundamental to the game.

"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.

The Premier League has warned the move could undermine English football's competitiveness
The Premier League has warned the move could undermine English football's competitiveness. Picture: Getty

"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.

"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."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "For too long some clubs have been abused by unscrupulous owners who get away with financial mismanagement, which at worst can lead to complete collapse - as we saw in the upsetting cases of Bury and Macclesfield Town.

"This Bill is a historic moment for football fans - it will make sure their voices are front and centre, prevent a breakaway league, protect the financial sustainability of clubs, and protect the heritage of our clubs big and small."

Sports Minister praises creation of new football regulator

Labour's shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire welcomed the Bill's introduction after what she called "years of Tory time wasting".

She said: "We've long been calling for an independent regulator for football to give fans a greater say in the way their clubs are run, tackle poor governance and prevent bad-faith ownership.

"For too long fans up and down the country have been forced to watch their clubs pushed to the brink. The new regulator must robustly defend the interests of fans and ensure the financial sustainability of the football pyramid.

"We will scrutinise the proposals of the Bill carefully and work to ensure the new regulator has the powers it needs to protect clubs which are the beating heart of towns and cities across the country."

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