Conservative MP and former sports minister Tracey Crouch has urged the government to form a new independent regulator for English football following the conclusion of a major review into the game.
Crouch chaired the government commissioned review into the sport, led by football supporters, which this week published its conclusion that an independent regulator for English football [IREF] is needed to guarantee the long-term financial wellbeing of the game.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Crouch said: “This is a huge opportunity. We've seen football lurching from crisis to crisis over the past decade and unfortunately we haven't had the right levels of regulation in place to stop that from happening.”
Crouch said that the formation of a new regulatory body would ensure that the sport can “become sustainable for the long-term future” in England, preventing the financial collapse of clubs and deterring the re-emergence of potential breakaway ventures such as the European Super League.
The Football Association [FA] says that some “positive changes” have already been implemented following the review.
Among the review’s recommendations are that all clubs should have a ‘shadow board’ comprised of supporters, so that the fans are being properly consulted on key issues. It also proposes that supporters should hold a ‘golden share’ in their club in order to protect crucial elements of heritage, including the competitions the clubs compete in.
Elsewhere among the review's suggestions was that Premier League clubs ought to pay a “solidarity transfer levy” to ensure the redistribution of funds throughout the wider football pyramid and into the grassroots levels of the game.
Such a move is not entirely unprecedented. The Premier League did step in during the Covid-19 pandemic by issuing a £250 million rescue package to keep English Football League [EFL] clubs afloat in December 2020, followed by a further £25 million which was allocated exclusively to EFL Leagues One and Two and the National League earlier this month.
The review also indicated that the new IREF would conduct its own suitability tests for club owners and directors, with such checks currently carried out by the Premier League, EFL and FA.
The Premier League’s own suitability test for new owners has recently come under fire, after the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United was approved despite concerns over the country's human rights record.
The BBC reports that the government will support the plans for an independent regulator to be formed, but legislation paving the way for its establishment is unlikely to be in place before the start of the 2022/23 football season in August 2022.
Nevertheless, Crouch suggested that a shadow regulator could be set up in advance so that the regulator’s key principles could be established early.
The Premier League has said that it will consider the recommendations within the review before taking further action, stating: “We acknowledge the call for some form of independent regulation to protect English football's essential strengths and the Premier League has already undertaken our own governance and strategic reviews.
“These will continue to progress together with the ongoing work of the fan-led review. It is important to everyone that any reforms do not damage our game, its competitive balance or the levels of current investment.”
The EFL is hopeful that the review can bring about the changes needed to make clubs more sustainable. Its chair, Rick Parry, commented: “Achieving financial stability has to be the number one priority. Reducing volatility and fostering balance throughout the English leagues will provide the bedrock upon which reforms can be built.”
The Football Supporters’ Association [FSA] has said that the review forms “the basis for a prosperous and sustainable future” for English football clubs across all levels of the game.
FSA CEO Kevin Miles said that it was “now up to the government to deliver” after the review came as a “huge step forward” for the governance of the game.
The review's recommendations are summarised in the following key points:
· The government should create a new independent regulator (IREF)
· IREF should oversee financial regulation in football
· IREF should establish new owners' and directors' tests
· A new corporate governance code should be set up
· Equality, diversity and inclusion plans should be mandatory for all clubs
· Supporters should be consulted on all key off-field decisions through a 'shadow board'
· Key items of club heritage should be protected by a 'golden share' for fans
· There should be more support from the Premier League to the pyramid through a solidarity transfer levy, paid by Premier League clubs on buying players from overseas or other top-flight clubs
· 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
Photo by Jannik Skorna on Unsplash