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Government Regulation Coming to English Football

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
The UK government plans to appoint an independent regulator for English football in the most sweeping governance reforms in 150 years.

For some time, European soccer has been able to run amok.

From team sales to foreign entities like Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund purchasing Newcastle United, to an attempt from several top clubs to form a European Super League, public criticism and governmental investigations are nothing new. Amid large-scale investigations into Manchester City allegedly breaking European financial fair play rules and regulations, the UK government announced plans Thursday to appoint an independent regulator to oversee soccer among the country’s top five tiers, including the Premier League.

It’s slated to be the biggest overhaul of football governance since rules were originally codified in 1863.

Per the government’s executive summary, the new independent regulator’s primary purpose will be to ensure English football’s sustainability and resilience. Its aim is to ultimately benefit the fans and the local communities the teams serve. The regulator will oversee the financial stability of individual clubs, the overall stability of the English football pyramid, and protect the clubs’ cultural heritage.

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“English football is currently endangered by the high and growing risk of financial failure among clubs across its top five tiers,” the government’s statement reads. “There exist fundamental problems of perverse incentives, poor governance, and defective industry self-regulation. These, along with the risk of breakaway competitions, threaten the stability of the football pyramid as a whole and risk leaving fans alienated and powerless.”

A previous fan-led review of UK football governance highlighted:

  • The failed 2021 plan from five Premier League clubs to break away and form a European Super League
  • A bevy of clubs like Derby County and Bury that neared liquidation due to executive mismanagement
  • The free market not adequately accounting for how important clubs are to their communities
  • The inadequacy of industry self-regulation

The regulator will force clubs to maintain a license to remain a professional English football club. Clubs will be required to demonstrate basic good financial practices, have appropriate financial buffers or resources, and protect core club assets like their stadiums from harm.

For new and prospective club owners and directors, the regulator will test them on fitness and propriety to ensure integrity, enhanced due diligence on the sources of owners’ wealth, and a requirement for robust ownership financial plans. The regulator will also require clubs to comply with new Football Association (FA) rules for club heritage, which would give fans the right to veto changes to clubs’ badges and home shirt colors. Lastly and most importantly, clubs will only be allowed to participate in competitions approved by the regulator. That would bar English clubs from forming a Super League.

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