MPs have expressed strong support for a new independent regulator in football, but are split over the merits of applying the ‘50+1’ fan ownership model that is dominant in Germany.
Politicians from the Conservatives and Labour believe a regulator is needed to ensure fair distribution of wealth in the game, to limit the power of wealthy owners and it needs to be independent of the existing football bodies, to be effective.
The growing support for a regulator will concern the existing power structures.
Sportsmail reported today that the Premier League is seeking to appoint two new independent non-executive directors in what many believe is a desperate attempt to stop the creation of an independent regulator. The top flight insists the appointments are unrelated.
However, the pressure is rising with 142,000 people signing a petition calling for an independent regulator of the game, which sparked a parliamentary debate this week.
‘In other industries, such as broadcasting, we have regulators in place, ‘said Conservative Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hyde.
‘I believe it should be independent of all the existing football bodies, including the FA, have a strict and limited remit regarding the financial performance and governance of clubs, and have very clear powers to intervene and even to put clubs into a form of sporting administration if things go wrong.’
The MPs are following in the footstep of high-profile former players and broadcasters, including Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Gary Linker, among 22 former footballers, who demanded an independent regulator be appointed after Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham tried to form a breakaway competition.
How football is run and regulated has come into sharp focus after a year in which clubs have been pushed to the bring by the coronavirus pandemic and the BIG Six have made audacious power grabs through Project Big Picture and the European Super League
‘The regulator could be responsible for the approval of takeovers, the application of a strengthened fit-and-proper person test process, the oversight of a club licensing scheme to ensure high standards of governance, and the management of a system of redistribution of club revenues to ensure the health of football at every level of the pyramid,’ said John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and the former shadow chancellor.
More than 106,000 football fans also signed a petition in favour of English football adopting a ‘50+1’ fan ownership of clubs.
In Germany, Bundesliga clubs are subject to this system, with a handful of exceptions. The fans own 50 per cent plus one share of the voting rights, which prevents any investor from attaining a majority stake in the club and give the supporters’ representatives control over major decisions.
However, while MPs think there needs to be greater involvement from fans in running English clubs, they are not all convinced this is the right approach.
‘The 50+1 model is not realistic for English football. It is hard to see how this kind of ownership structure could be brought in. I also have concerns about the impact it could have on our game,’ Jonathan Gullis, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent told the Westminster Hall debate.
‘It does seem to prevent ambitious owners coming forward. Frankly, owners will not want to invest in a club without being able to control its direction.’
And Christina Rees, Labour MP for Neath, added: ‘The rule would not be suitable for shared ownership of the top English premier league clubs that have invested millions of pounds, but would be suitable as a voting structure.’
The Conservative MP for Loughborough, Jane Hunt, suggested that fans should not be allowed to veto all decisions made by a club’s board, but could have a golden share, which could be exercised for certain decisions, such as where the team plays.
Fan groups have also suggested a similar approach in which fans have the final say on club colours, name and which competitions it competes in.
However, Claudia Webbe, an independent MP for Leicester East, said she was in favour of ‘50+1’ because it ‘can shift the balance of power away from rampant profit-seeking and back towards fan accessibility and affordability, and help to ensure that nothing like the ESL fiasco ever happens again’.
Currently, the Government’s fan-led review of football is gathering evidence, under the chairmanship of Conservative MP Tracey Crouch.
An expert panel is speaking to fan groups and other parties and is due to publish an interim report next month, with a final report in October.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said he is prepared to legislate to ensure recommendations from the Crouch report are put into practice. An independent regulator is likely to require legislation.