What difference will the new Football Regulator make?



by Tony Attwood

Recently the Football Governance Bill was introduced in the UK parliament.  If, as seems very likely, is becomes law, it will create an independent regulator for football, separate from the government, the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association.

At the moment however, there is no guarantee that the regulator will actually be set up – not because anyone in the House of Commons or the Lords is against it, but because it may well not get through all stages of putting it into law before the present government either falls, or runs out of time, and a new election is called.   If it gets through most stages it can then be rushed through the final bits without any serious scrutiny – but that is not guaranteed.

What’s more, there are many things that we simply don’t know about the Regulator.

First, the law will say that the clubs have to pay for its budget of around £10m – with some clubs being asked to fork out around half a million pounds a year for the privilege of being told what they can’t do.  It will be up to the Regulator to decide what it can and can’t look into – and so the complaint that Untold has been running (that of clubs getting out of any responsibility for the injuries on the grounds that the medical records have been lost) might or might not fall within its remit.  It could take a couple of years for the Regulator to decide exactly what it is willing to take on.

And there is a secondary problem – most of the top clubs don’t want another level of regulation.  Indeed the clubs that have been playing fast and loose with the health of teenage players most certainly have no interest in the regulator being set up any time soon, and so will do everything possible to limit the regulators’ powers.

Instead, it is most likely that the regulator will just focus on financial regulation – exactly the sort of thing Leicester City are arguing against at the moment.   The other issues on the cards (protecting club heritage and fan involvement) are likely to come a long way down the list and will easily be sidetracked.

Take fan involvement.  We have that at Arsenal through the representations of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association, who have presented serious concerns about the range of price increases being pushed through by the club.  Would a protest to the Regulator have helped?  I really can’t see that.   Arsenal are not making money, they are losing money because so much has been spent on transfers.  So there’s really little extra room for manoeuvre.

It is said that the regulator will also be involved in vetting owners, stopping clubs and joining new competitions that are not based on meritocracy – such as the Super League.

But what happens if a financially struggling club finds that the only person willing to buy them out and take on their debts is someone not considered wholly desirable?  If the Regulator says ok, then the Regulator has made no difference and someone suspected of using the club for money laundering or to gain influence in England, has got in.  If the Regulator says no, he’s let a club die which could have survived.

But consider this: the owner doesn’t want to sell but is told to sell.  What does the owner do?  For a start, stop paying the mortgage on the ground, and second sells off the best players.

And we can ask, would a Regulator have stopped the Bradford fire?  That seems unclear.  And it is not as if there is no regulation at the moment.  After all, Liverpool were fined  £100,000 and banned from signing academy players from English league clubs for two years when they were found guilty of tapping up.

And what will the Regulator do if a dozen Premier League clubs all say they want to join a reworked Super League?   I suspect the subsequent court case would last for years by which time the clubs could have left.

And if the top six clubs in the PL league left, where would that leave the rest of the league, playing in a competition without the main attraction?

Come to that, would the Regulator have stopped Manchester City doing whatever it is currently accused of 110 times over?  Would the Regulator have been able to investigate Manchester City more quickly than the PL are managing?  Again, it seems unlikely.

The point is, the Premier League earns more money than any other league.  A lot more money than any other league.   The chances are that no matter what powers the Regulator has it will still do what it wants, because if  the Regulator says no, the PL clubs are liable to say, “try and stop us.”

Would the government then shut the PL clubs down?   They might be that silly, but can you imagine the backlash from fans?

3 Replies to “What difference will the new Football Regulator make?”

  1. The regulator may be best suited for looking out for money laundering, child welfare and crooked refs. That should be more than enough for a start.

  2. Would the regulator be classed as “government interference”, and would England then be kicked out of FIFA?

    Now there’s an idea.

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