English football will have an independent regulator, with a reinforced “fitness test” for owners and directors ahead of the next UK general election, according to plans laid out by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
The plan, outlined in a letter from Dorries to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and seen by the Financial Times, will put the government on a collision course with the Football Association (FA), the sport’s governing body, and the Premier. League on how the country’s most popular sport should be regulated.
The FA prefers the supervisor to sit within its framework, according to a person close to the governing body, while the Premier League has argued against full statutory regulation.
However, the English Football League (EFL), which runs the divisions below the top flight, favors a body outside the FA, according to a person close to them.
Dorries wants the regulator to be fully independent, according to his advisers, although that could change in the future if the FA proves that it has fundamentally reformed. But the plan raises the prospect of a heated debate over the sport’s future.
The Culture Secretary argued that the aborted European Super League – a plan drawn up last year with the support of the “big six” clubs in the English top division – and the recent financial problems at clubs such as Bury and Derby County demonstrate the need for a new structure.
The sanctions imposed on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich also highlighted the need for tougher checks on an individual’s suitability to own a club, although it is unlikely that a new regulator would have stopped a Saudi-led consortium from buying Newcastle United. last year.
Dorries accepted that she would be criticized by some for delaying the legislation until after the next parliamentary session, which could give hope to opponents of using the delay to water down the plans.
Conservative lawmaker Tracey Crouch, who oversaw a fan-led review of football governance last year, argued that there is a case for “urgent” legislation in the next parliamentary session.
But Dorries argued that the new plan for the sport needs more thorough consultation; a study is planned for the summer, with the intention of moving forward with legislation next year in the final session, before the 2024 general election.
“Some will express their concern that this is the government kicking the football regulation issue into the tall grass,” Dorries said in the letter to Johnson. “I believe it’s the opposite; it’s the government committed to unprecedented regulation that protects fans while preserving the economic value of our national sport.”
Dorries said that to prove the “opponents” wrong, the government must commit to creating the regulator in the Queen’s Speech next month and drawing up a roadmap promising to legislate in time for the regulator to be deployed before 2024 elections.
The minister’s allies concede that his plans will put the government on a “collision course” with existing English football bodies, but Dorries argued that a new regulator would help create a “consistent and sustainable framework” with less risk of financial crises. in sport.
The Premier League, FA and EFL declined to comment, but last month Helen MacNamara, the Premier League’s director of policy and corporate affairs, told the House of Commons’ digital, culture, media and sport committee that the league was against full statutory regulation.
She defended the role of the FA, while acknowledging the need for “more independent oversight”. “We support the FA. We think there is a natural reason why the FA would be an effective regulator.”
Mark Bullingham, the FA’s chief executive, said at the same meeting that the body is making governance changes recommended in the Crouch review to allow it to take on additional responsibilities, including the appointment of independent non-executive directors.
“Anything we did would be a whole new body, housed independently in the FA, and it would demand that independence,” he said.
The Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport said: “Football is nothing without its fans, who are the foundation of clubs across the country, which is why we ensure they play a key role in reviewing the governance of the sport, overseen by Representative Tracey Crouch.
“We are committed to the proposal to adopt an independent English football regulator and strengthen testing of existing owners and directors.”
“Protecting club wealth, improving corporate governance and greater financial sustainability across the football pyramid will be at the heart of our response to the fan-led review.”
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves