The British Government announced today how it intends to proceed with the regulation and oversight of football clubs. It has previously committed to responding positively to the Fan-Based Review and has now set out how it plans to do so.

FERW wrote to the new Culture Secretary at the time of her appointment encouraging her to pursue the findings of the Fan-Based Review. We are pleased that its concerns are today being addressed.

Early indicators already suggested that the document would include more powers for a more independent Regulator, with a focus on ensuring club governance is fit and capable, and also that it is based on sound economic ties to ensure club stability and longevity. As is often the case with such stories, there is a lot of pre-briefing that happens and so you have to wait for the end text to come out (any FERW comments potentially carried in the press from this morning – before the document release – need obviously to carry that caveat in mind).

These are certainly important steps forward and the Government is to be commended for them. Too often football clubs have been treated by fleeting owners as trophy corporations and their fans like ordinary consumers. Nevertheless, the surest safeguard is to formally bring representatives of fans into club decision-making at the highest levels and we had early concerns this wasn’t included.

In any event the White Paper itself is now out, and a link is at the bottom of this page. As anticipated, a lot hangs on the new powers of the Regulator. Already some concerns have been raised that this is just generating another interfering quango that will make it harder for clubs to function. This is a long term threat but need not be the case, though it is a great shame that safeguards couldn’t be introduced in-house to develop best practice without needing state intervention. In any event, Sections 2.19 and 2.20 show that this concern has been considered.

Some points do still need clarifying from the text on the regulatory funding arrangements, to ensure it doesn’t become over time a ‘superannuated busybody’ driven by a need to justify a lucrative existence. On the other hand, we do note the reference to the preservation of cultural heritage and there may be some interesting and unexpected discussions to be had over how that may work in practice.

Additionally, we are pleased to note an obligation emerging for clubs to have to declare their Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs). Transparency helps remove some of the risk of reputational damage by unhappy association, either incidentally or through deliberate ‘sportswashing’, and this is an area again FERW has campaigned over (and indeed features as a ranking factor in our latest reputational league tables).

In the final analysis, we are surprised and slightly disappointed by the White Paper’s content over fan engagement. Unexpectedly the issue of the Golden Share does crop up, and it (or some similar more informal arrangement) is not dismissed entirely. Indeed it is identified as potentially the solution, but on a club-by-club basis. Instead, fans are left with some veto power over changes to critical symbols.

This is an improvement but only a safeguard from catastrophic poor judgement. As FERW has campaigned for in the past, fan representation should really be brought in formally at the heart of the club, not left as a shallow afterthought of outreach and PR.

 

LINKS

The findings of the Fan-Led Review can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fan-led-review-of-football-governance-securing-the-games-future/fan-led-review-of-football-governance-securing-the-games-future#executive-summary

The White Paper can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-sustainable-future-reforming-club-football-governance/a-sustainable-future-reforming-club-football-governance

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