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Government Accused Of Dragging Heels On Football Regulator With Deal Up In The Air

Wembley stadium (Alamy)

4 min read

Conservative MPs and football campaigners are becoming increasingly frustrated with what they describe as the Government’s “weak” position on the football regulator, as a future Football Governance Bill is yet to enter the Commons.

Pressure has been mounting for the Premier League and the English Football League (EFL) to agree a financial deal between themselves. Elite clubs met for two hours on 29 February and have agreed to reconvene on 11 March.

It has not been announced whether Premier League clubs will vote on a new financial package which will redistribute funds to other EFL clubs, BBC Sport reported. 

Government cannot force all 20 Premier League clubs to agree a financial settlement. However it has said if they cannot come to an agreement a new regulator will step in and impose a deal on all clubs. 

One senior Tory MP told PoliticsHome they were assured a Football Governance Bill was coming to the Commons soon and the regulator would have strong “backstop powers”, which would give a future regulator the teeth to implement a financial deal if one was not already agreed by Premier League clubs. 

They said there was frustration and concern among many MPs on the backbenches over the fact that the Bill had not been brought forward. However they claimed much of the criticism directed towards the Government and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, who is in charge of bringing a future Football Governance Bill forward, was “unfair”.

One sector source close to the meetings claimed the Government could give the regulator the “necessary powers” to redistribute money across the football pryamid, then stand back and let the process take its course. “Frazer’s insistence on getting a deal done first is unnecessary and making her look weak,” they said. 

Frazer recently spoke at an FT conference and said a package was coming and a football regulator would be implemented for prior to the next election. The cabinet minister said the regulator will focus on the financial health of English football clubs.

She said she hoped top-flight clubs and the EFL could come to an agreement in financial distribution without the need for the regulator.

A DCMS spokesperson said it was the Government’s preference for football authorities to “agree to a redistribution deal that works for all parties”. They said if they cannot the regulator will have strong backstop powers to intervene.

“The Government is on the side of football fans, and we continue to engage with leagues and clubs ahead of the introduction of the Football Governance Bill,” they said.

“We have a clear plan to deliver a sustainable future for football, with fans at its heart, and our legislation will deliver this through a tough new independent regulator."

Niall Couper, CEO of Fair Game, told PoliticsHome the Government must stay “focused” on why the country needed a regulator which was to ensure the “financial sustainability” of our National Game.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver for the entire football pyramid. But it takes strength to stand up to vested interest. The wider football community – Fair Game included – hopes our political leaders can deliver," they said.

The Government has been preparing to bring forward legislation for an independent regulator for several years. The Conservatives promised to kickstart a fan-led review to reform English football in its 2019 manifesto where the party won an 80 seat majority. 

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch launched the fan-led review into football in 2021 which included recommendations such as making the football pryamid more financially sustainable. 

In a White Paper published in 2023 the Government said money was not sufficiently distributed between England's elite clubs and teams in the lower leagues. 

A Football Governance Bill was included in in the King’s Speech setting out the government's latest legislative agenda in November.

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters' Association, said last year’s King’s Speech promised to “safeguard the future of football clubs for the benefit of communities and fans” and claimed the upcoming deal must deliver upon that commitment.

"It's clearer than ever that football needs an independent regulator – financial deals between leagues are temporary but a strong regulator is permanent," he said.

Following the announcement several senior jobs have been advertised internally and to the public to help kickstart an independent regulator. PoliticsHome previously reported a role in the Civil Service to set up the regulator had closed in November.

The successful applicant could have potentially been renumerated with a salary of more than £100,000-a-year.

PoliticsHome reported in February a new Football Regulator Implementation Unit had been launched. Applications for a new role in the unit ended on 5 February. 

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