Bold plan to protect long-term future of English football

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Football fans and their clubs will be given greater protections under a radical transformation of the rules governing how football is run in England.

For the first time, a new independent regulator for the men’s elite game will be established in law to oversee the financial sustainability of the game and put fans back at the heart of how football is run.

The regulator will implement a new licensing system from the top flight down to the National League, requiring clubs to demonstrate sound financial business models and good corporate governance as part of an application process before being allowed to compete.

It will guarantee fans a greater say in the strategic running of their clubs and help protect clubs’ heritage to stop owners changing names, badges and home shirt colours without consulting fans. It will require clubs to seek regulator approval for any sale or relocation of the stadium, with fan engagement a major part of that process.

There will be new tests for owners and directors, ensuring good custodians of clubs, stronger due diligence on sources of wealth and a requirement for robust financial planning.

The regulator will have the power to prevent English clubs from joining new competitions that do not meet a predetermined criteria, in consultation with the FA and fans. That criteria could include measures to stop clubs participating in closed-shop breakaway competitions which harm the domestic game, such as the European Super League.

The English game remains one of the UK’s greatest cultural exports, with clubs and leagues around the world modelling themselves on its success. That is why the Government is today taking the necessary and targeted steps to ensure that continues for generations.

The move follows the Government’s 2019 manifesto commitment to deliver a fan-led review of football governance, in light of the failings at historic clubs such as Bury and Macclesfield Town which went out of business as a result of mismanagement. Those clubs are among 64 instances of a club being put into administration since 1992, when the Premier League was launched.

More recently, in 2021, plans for a breakaway European Super League by a select group of Premier League and other European elite clubs were shelved after widespread public condemnation and action from the Government and football authorities.

There continues to be serious financial risk in the leagues. Despite the global success of English football, the combined net debt of clubs in the Premier League and Championship had reached £5.9 billion by the end of the 2020/21 season.

In the same season, the Championship reported a wage-to-revenue ratio average of 125 per cent – meaning clubs were stretching themselves far beyond their means – and in recent months multiple clubs throughout the leagues have failed to meet their payroll. Derby County FC found itself on the brink of liquidation last year, and indications are that things continue to deteriorate across the leagues.

The Government launched a Fan-Led Review Of Football in 2021 and responded to it in April 2022.

Prime Minister RIshi Sunak said:

Since its inception over 165 years ago, English football has been bringing people together, providing a source of pride for communities and inspiration to millions of fans across the country.

Yet despite the success of the sport both at home and abroad, we know that there are real challenges which threaten the stability of clubs both big and small.

These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football, protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs and safeguard the beautiful game for future generations

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said:

I know how much football means to this country, and I want to see the domestic league continue its incredible success at home and abroad.

So today we are stepping in to secure the long-term future of the national game and put fans right back at the heart of how football is run.

Our plans will ensure that clubs manage their finances in a responsible way, and prevent unscrupulous owners from treating clubs as expendable commodities rather than the beloved community assets that they are.

This is about protecting the beautiful game, making sure we remain home to the strongest league in the world, and safeguarding clubs big and small across the country.

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said:

My first major meeting as Sports Minister was with football fans. I heard how some clubs had suffered at the hands of owners who used and abused their stewardship.

Without fans, football clubs are nothing. That is why today we are putting fans back at the centre of football governance, and creating a stronger foundation for the continued growth and success of English football.

This new independent regulator will create an even stronger Premier League, English Football League and National League, so our pyramid of elite football remains the envy of leagues the world over.

Chair of the Fan Led Review of Football Governance Tracey Crouch CBE MP said:

This is a big day for football in this country and I am delighted the Government has acted on the key strategic recommendations in my review.

The introduction of a new independent regulator of football will strengthen our incredible pyramid, giving investors, fans and communities confidence in the governance of our clubs, enabling them to thrive in the best leagues in the world.

Football is nothing without its fans, and the announcement today will ensure they remain at its heart while it continues to grow at home and abroad.

Chief Executive of the Football Supporters Association Kevin Miles said:

The Football Supporters Association engaged in the fan-led review from day one and we warmly welcome the historic commitment from the Government to introduce an independent regulator of English football.

The football governance white paper clearly addresses our key concerns around ownership, rogue competitions and sustainability and of course we support any proposals that offer fans a greater voice in the running of their clubs.

We look forward to engaging with the Government on the next steps.

The Premier League remains the envy of club competitions around the world and the Government remains fully behind its continued success. But in order to secure the financial sustainability of clubs at all levels, a solution led by those running the leagues and their clubs is needed, and remains the Government’s preferred outcome.

However, if the football authorities cannot reach an agreement the regulator would have targeted powers of last resort to intervene and facilitate an agreement as and when necessary.

As part of its wide ranging remit the regulator will also:

  • Ensure club directors demonstrate good basic financial practices, have appropriate financial resources and protect the core assets of the club;
  • Improve governance through the introduction of a Football Club Corporate Governance Code;
  • Remain proportionate and adaptive in its approach with checks and balances embedded in its design;

In parallel with the publication of the white paper, the Government will also review the efficiency of the existing visa system for English football in attracting the best global talent while maintaining strong support for young domestic players to develop from the grassroots level.

The Government says it will now begin the process of engagement and further consultation with selected stakeholders on the key reforms set out in its white paper. Plans to bring forward legislation will be announced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

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