By Tony Attwood
Sport, as the EU recognises in its regulations, is different. There is competition within it – that is by and large the whole point – but that competition is different from that of firms competing in most open markets. The competitive route is structured in a particular way – primarily through having a pyramid of leagues.
Which in turn means that at the top of the pyramid there is a monopoly supplier, in England’s case the Premier League. It makes its own rules, controls itself, and decides what’s what. PGMO is another such monopoly supplier.
In many democracies monopoly suppliers are fairly strictly regulated – it is a while since I had cause to look at the legislation but I do recall that cartels were made illegal earlier this century with maximum prison sentence of 5 years for those engaged in them, and that generally any business that has over 30% of the market should, in English law, be considered for investigation and possibly being broken up.
Now a cartel in such discussions and laws is considered to be an association of companies or organisations that exists to maintain prices at a high level while restricting competition.
So is the Premier League a cartel? Is PGMO a cartel? Is Uefa a cartel? The FA? Quite possibly by most definitions they could well be. But, as I have mentioned, sport is generally treated differently from the rest of life.
Nevertheless it does seem to me that there really ought to be some sort of discussion about the way these bodies are acting. As we have seen through many debates on this site, Uefa’s rules restricting the amount of money that, at one time at least, could be spent on players by clubs, were challenged by some supporters who felt they broke the various fair trade regulations in the EU. These restrictions were upheld, because the EU courts hearing the objections upheld the notion that sport is different from other commercial activities.
So monopoly suppliers can exist, such as PGMO. But even so one might then ask, who is the regulator of PGMO?
The answer is perhaps to some degree the Uefa Referees’ Committee, which resides in Nyon, Switzerland. Pierluigi Collina is the Uefa chief refereeing officer. It also oversees courses for referees including courses on fitness of referees.
From this organisation referee observers, go to Uefa matches to assess referees assess their performance and act as advisers. There is also a Uefa Centre of Refereeing Excellence which aims to “develop the technical skills and fitness of promising young referees and assistant referees who show the potential to become future international match officials.” But I am not at all sure they have any control over the refereeing in the PL.
All of this tells us that there is regulation, but it all comes from within Uefa, which means that what we have overall is football controlling football; in refereeing as in other matters within football there is no broader regulation.
Governments cannot become involved, because as we have noted before, if a government seeks to interfere with the running of its national football association, it is immediately thrown out of Fifa. So unless a group of countries got together with the deliberate intention of taking on Fifa, nothing is going to change.
Self-regulating industries can work ok, but this doesn’t always happen. That is why in the UK we have regulation of various activities, from the supply of water through to the Stock Exchange, from policing, to the ultimate regulator – the people’s right to vote our politicians from time to time. It is also why we have the Parliament that makes the laws and the courts which quite independently apply and interpret the laws both separate from the police which are charged with enforcing the laws. It’s not always perfect but it does give a certain level of protection.
The danger of a football industry that is self-regulated is that there are a lot of reasons why some people might want to take advantage of the situation. Take for example the multi-billion dollar gambling industry which has a very strong interest in the results of football matches. Take some of the biggest clubs – for it was they who instigated the match fixing era in Italy.
Or take the FA itself, and the questions to be asked about what it does with its money. One may ask how much money was collected for Grenfell Tower, and how much has been paid out and to whom. One may ask, but one doesn’t seem to get an answer.
The reality is that self-regulating bodies can work well, and maybe there is nothing wrong with the running of the FA, PGMO, the Premier League, Uefa, Fifa or any other body in football, but it would be nice to have a regulator from outside football looking at these bodies and saying, “just a minute – this lark with the way money from TV companies for the world cup, ends up in a little company in Zug – is that right?”
Or, “there does seem to be an awful lot of questions about Fifa officials and money. Is it really right it should be self regulating?” Or “PGMO does seem to have a very limited number of referees, and seems to be very secretive. Why is that?”
One day perhaps one country’s football officials will have enough gall to say, “this is beyond crazy,” and do something, rather than going along with the whole setup, and just moaning every now and then when a referee makes a decision that is so bizarre that they complain a lot via the media – and then do nothing at all.
PS: The comments page has been updated following the introduction of a new scam by those who don’t like it. If you comment isn’t published you might like to have a look at that page.
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