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The Football Governance Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 19 March 2024 writes David Little, a partner in our Corporate and Commercial  department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases too.

Parliament’s intention is to establish an independent regulator for the top five tiers of men’s football in England. In this statement Stuart Andrew, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said the regulator’s primary purpose would be to ensure that English football was “sustainable and resilient for the benefit of fans and the local communities football clubs serve”.

For those of us who love the beautiful game, Parliament’s interest in football rarely comes off well. The faux sincerity of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claiming the government would protect football reminded me of the incongruity of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher demanding the Football Association remove English football clubs from participating in European football following the Heysel stadium disaster in 1985. What do either of them really know about football, and what fans want?

The aim of the new regulator will be to:

  • Operate a licensing system, where all clubs in the top five tiers of the men’s English football pyramid will need a licence to operate.
  • Establish a new, strengthened owners’ and directors’ test to make sure a club’s custodians are suitable and to protect fans from irresponsible owners.
  • Set a minimum standard of fan engagement and requiring clubs to comply with new FA rules on club heritage, giving fans a veto over changes to the badge and home shirt colours, as well as the strong existing protections for club names.
  • Require clubs to seek regulator pre-approval for any sale or relocation of their stadium.
  • Prevent clubs from joining breakaway leagues that do not have the support of the fans or that threaten the heritage or sustainability of English football.
  • Have a backstop power to intervene in the distribution of broadcast revenue when the leagues fail to reach an agreement—subject to certain thresholds being met.
  • Establish a compulsory “Football Club Corporate Governance Code”.

Every single one of those ‘fan led’ – according to the government’s press release – recommendations is controversial. Frankly at next Saturday’s match the talk on the terrace will be much more likely to focus on the games facing Swansea in the run in to the end of the season. It’s mathematically possible we could qualify for the playoffs. Technically, probably less so. Sadly.

My favourite quote about this new Bill came from David Bernstein, a former chairman of the Football Association, David Bernstein, who told CityAM, “To expect a reasonable dialogue between the Premier League and Football League is like expecting Russia and Ukraine to negotiate on an equal basis.

“The regulator needs to have the authority or the power to deal with a lot of financial issues, as well as everything else. If I have a concern about all this, it’s that the government will compromise and the regulator will not be given sufficient power to deal with what is absolutely key: the money side of all this.

“For the government to pull back and compromise, if that’s what they do, I think is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. You’ve got something here that’s really radical and needs to be dealt with properly. If we end up with a compromised situation, I think it’ll make the whole thing a bit of a damp squib.”

Hear, hear.

 

Contact our Corporate & Commercial and Sports Law Solicitor

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team. If you would like to contact him, please quote Ref CB463 on either on either 07968 027343 / 020 7631 4141 or email company@bishopandsewell.co.uk.

The above is accurate as at 17 April 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.


Category: Blog, News | Date: 17th Apr 2024


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