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Football regulator’s powers to be revealed in bill – and opinion is already divided

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Detail view of the Nike Flight Premier League 2022-23 Hi-Vis match ball prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Detail view of the Nike Flight Premier League 2022-23 Hi-Vis match ball prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The powers afforded to the incoming independent football regulator will be revealed on Tuesday when the government publishes its long-awaited Football Governance Bill.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it “a historic moment for football fans”, while culture secretary Lucy Frazer said the regulator would “set the game on a sustainable footing, strengthening clubs and the entire football pyramid for generations”.

The Premier League said it would study the bill but was “concerned about any unintended consequences of legislation that could weaken the competitiveness and appeal of English football”.

The fine print will also be studied closely by those, such as former Football Association chairman David Bernstein, who have voiced concerns that plans for a regulator have already been watered down.

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One of the regulator’s key powers is expected to be settling the long-running row over financial distribution between the Premier League and the EFL, whih governs lower leagues.

The government has long warned the football authorities the regulator would have “backstop powers” to intervene and those will be confirmed on Tuesday when the bill is introduced to Parliament.

“These powers mean that if the leagues fail to agree on a new deal on financial distributions, then the backstop can be triggered to ensure a settlement is reached,” a government announcement on the bill said.

Precise details over the point at which the powers would be triggered – and what those powers would look like – have not yet been confirmed but the government said in a consultation response last September that one option it was considering was binding final offer arbitration.

The regulator’s primary purpose, once established, will be to safeguard the financial sustainability of clubs in England through a licensing system. This will cover clubs from the National League up to the Premier League.

The government has said the regulator will have the ability to fine clubs up to 10 per cent of turnover for non-compliance.

It will also have the power to block clubs from competing in unapproved competitions, a nod to the outrage among fans caused by England’s “Big Six” seeking to join a European Super League in April 2021.

‘Fans can breathe sigh of relief’ at football regulator

The regulator will be tasked with assessing prospective new owners and directors, disqualifying those who persistently or wilfully fail to comply with licensing conditions, the government said.

“Football has long been one of our greatest sources of national pride. Up and down the country, it brings people together in celebration or commiseration,” added Sunak.

“But for too long some clubs have been abused by unscrupulous owners who get away with financial mismanagement, which at worst can lead to complete collapse – as we saw in the upsetting cases of Bury and Macclesfield Town.”

Tracey Crouch MP, whose Fan-Led Review paved the way for a regulator, said football supporters could now “breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that the next steps towards protecting the long term sustainability of the pyramid have now been taken.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called publication of the regulator's powers via the Football Governance Bill historic
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called publication of the regulator’s powers via the Football Governance Bill historic

She added: “A significant amount of work has gone into this piece of legislation which will establish a truly independent force in football that will place fans and good governance at its heart.”

Regulator: too powerful or not powerful enough?

The Premier League, which has opposed the introduction of a regulator, said it supported ensuring the game remained sustainable at all levels.

But it added: “The government has consistently stated that it wishes to support the Premier League’s continued global success which generates funding to help sustain the entire football pyramid.

“With our clubs, we have advocated for a proportionate regime that enables us to build on our position as the most widely watched league in the world.

“Mindful that the future growth of the Premier League is not guaranteed, we remain concerned about any unintended consequences of legislation that could weaken the competitiveness and appeal of English football.”

Fair Game, a lobby group of EFL clubs which campaigns for governance reform, said it was concerned that the regulator would ultimately lack teeth.

“In the last couple of weeks, we have met ministers, and repeatedly we have failed to get assurances that the regulator will have the power to intervene,” said Fair Game’s director of advocacy Mike Baker.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to throw a lifeline to struggling clubs, their employees, communities, and fans across the country. For the sake of the entire football pyramid… politicians must ensure that this opportunity does not go to waste.”