UK government proposes regulator to oversee English soccer

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By Associated Press

LONDON: A government plan would allow English soccer to be overseen by an independent regulator to ensure the financial sustainability of clubs throughout the leagues and stop teams from joining breakaway competitions like the European Super League.

In what is described as a “radical transformation of the rules governing how football is run in England,” the British government is acting on a recommendation from a fan-led review carried out in the wake of the collapse of two lower-league clubs — Bury and Macclesfield — because of financial mismanagement.

It also comes in response to the failed attempts of 12 of Europe’s elite clubs — including six from England’s Premier League — to set up a European Super League in 2021. The English clubs quickly shelved the idea after a backlash from fans and the government.

The government on Thursday will publish its “white paper on football governance” which will propose the creation of a regulator for the elite men’s game to implement a new licensing system from the Premier League down to the fifth tier. It would require clubs to “demonstrate sound financial business models and good corporate governance as part of an application process before being allowed to compete.”

It would give fans a greater say in the running of clubs, such as changing names or colors of the jersey, and require clubs to seek approval from the regulator for any sale or relocation of a stadium.

It would have the power to prevent English clubs from joining new competitions that do not meet predetermined criteria, in consultation with the Football Association and fans.

“That criteria could include measures to stop clubs participating in closed-shop breakaway competitions which harm the domestic game,” the government said.

The regulator would also run an owners’ and directors’ test with a focus on the fitness and propriety of new owners and enhanced due diligence. It was not immediately clear whether there would be any human-rights element to the test, which Amnesty International has called on the Premier League to introduce in the wake of the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle and has repeated amid a Qatari bid for Manchester United.

The government is confident the regulator’s powers would be balanced in such a way that it will not diminish the competitiveness and strength of the Premier League, which is financially superior to every other league in Europe.

According to the government, the regulator would have “targeted powers of last resort” to intervene “as and when necessary.”

The Premier League said its clubs “will now carefully consider the government’s plan for England to become the first major nation to make football a government-regulated industry.”

The Premier League stressed it was “vital that regulation does not damage the game fans love to watch in the deepest professional pyramid in the world, or its ability to attract investment and grow interest in our game.”

It warned of “unintended consequences that could affect the Premier League’s position as the most-watched football league in the world, reduce its competitiveness or put the unrivaled levels of funding we provide at risk.”

The government said it will now embark on further consultation with the key stakeholders.

“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,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.