Government unveils extensive plans for reforming English football
The government’s long-awaited white paper outlining major reforms to football in England has now been published. As expected, it proposes the introduction of a new independent regulator to ensure the sustainability and resilience of English football as its major recommendation to shake up football governance in this country.
Other proposals include:
– a new licensing system for clubs all the way through the football pyramid requiring them to obtain a license in order to operate as a professional football club;
– new tests for prospective owners and directors of football clubs;
– the implementation of a minimum standard of fan engagement, particularly on the topic of club heritage;
– the prevention of English clubs joining breakaway competitions that do not meet predetermined criteria; and
– last-resort powers of the regulator to intervene in relation to financial distributions within the football pyramid.
The publication of the white paper is the latest chapter in a long-running saga within English football centred around the ownership and management of clubs. It follows several recent high-profile events, from the expulsion of Bury FC from the English Football League in August 2019 when the club fell into financial crisis, to the failed European Super League (ESL) proposal which sparked widespread criticism and fan protest in April 2021.
The latter scandal led to the government to commission an independent fan-led review of football governance, chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch MP. The review made 10 recommendations, with the creation of an independent regulator being the main one, and Downing Street supported the review’s suggestions. That support has now been taken a step further as evidenced by the proposals in the white paper.
We will shortly follow up with an in-depth analysis of the white paper. This will discuss, among others:
– what exactly the white paper proposes in terms of reforms to English football;
– whether the paper’s publication will lead to the much sought-after change in football governance;
– the regulator’s organisational structure and governance, how its chair and board will be appointed, and how their proposed powers may work in practice; and
– the effect the new owners and directors tests will have on prospective buyers; and
– how the regulator will prevent any subsequent attempts at an ESL or something similar.
Commenting on the paper’s release, Head of International Keith Oliver said:
“The publication of the white paper is a direct consequence of the failed ESL, which was a disastrous PR car crash for all involved. The introduction of an independent regulator will doubtless have an immediate and positive effect on the governance of the people’s game and is to be hugely welcomed.”