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Government Seeks To Reassure Over Football Regulator's Potential "Mission Creep"

Lucy Frazer gave the Football Governance Bill its second reading in Parliament (alamy)

5 min read

A number of stakeholders, MPs and legal experts have raised the alarm over potential “mission creep” in the football regulator, with many claiming additional rules could harm English football.

The Football Governance Bill was introduced in the House of Commons for its second reading on Tuesday. The Bill will introduce a new independent football regulator (IFR), which will aim to improve financial sustainability of the football pyramid and protect the heritage of clubs.

But there is concern the regulator has the potential to be given more responsibility once it is in place and be given more responsibility. The Premier League has looked to warn MPs that excessive regulation could hinder and hurt the Game.

At a parliamentary reception in the House of Lords on Tuesday the Premier League CEO Richard Masters, the general manager of the National League Mark Ives, and the managing director of Dagenham and Redbridge Stephen Thompson raised their concerns over the regulator’s impact.

A handful of peers and Labour and Tory MPs were in attendance and were served wine, beer, and small plates in the Attlee Room. Masters told the audience that few industries welcomed more regulation but added that the Premier League would respond positively to the new IFR.

But he warned against “mission creep” and said the Premier League would be more comfortable with “light touch, proportionate regulation”.

“Football is successful because it has had investment, investment from all over the world coming into this country and investing on the pitch for fans to really enjoy. We don't want that to be choked off, we want for that model to continue,” Masters said.

The Premier League has warned against the expansion of the so-called backstop powers which are in the Bill. Under the current wording of the Bill, the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) can only trigger the "backstop", which is a mechanism which will force elite clubs to share more money with smaller ones.

But there are a number of supporters’ groups and MPs who want to change this and give the IFR the powers to trigger a financial settlement.

One stakeholder source told PoliticsHome the backstop posed a threat to elite football and could make the top tier of English football less attractive to investors.

Len Shackleton, Editorial & Research Fellow Professor at the IEA, told PoliticsHome they had warned fans to be careful what they wish for with a regulator with wide-ranging financial powers. 

"We’ve warned of this in the past. Regulators are always subject to mission creep, as has just been noted with the FCA trying to load extra DEI requirements on financial institutions. Football fans demanding regulation should be careful what they wish for."

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, told the House of Commons that English football was a financial asset to the British economy, and claimed the country had the best fans in the world. But she claimed that too many supporters had seen their teams ruined by poor owners and directors and that “something” had to change.
“Clearly, not all clubs are feeling the benefits of English football's global success and something has to change. We all want to see our national game prosper for generations to come," she said.

“But if we want our clubs to thrive, fans have to be about heart and if we want English football remain a global success story, we have to ensure a pyramid is financially sustainable. And I'm proud to say that this football governance bill is going to do exactly that.”

Another Conservative MP who was concerned about the legislation told PoliticsHome they were concerned about the IFR but was prepared to “take one for the team” and vote for the Bill.

The debate and legislation has thus far not seen concerns raised by many ministers and MPs, even on the free market wing of the parliamentary party. Many Tory MPs are apathetic about the Bill’s introduction.

However, one industry source told PoliticsHome they believe the second reading could be oversubscribed, as it gave MPs a chance to name drop their constituencies and local football clubs in the House of Commons.

There are other legal issues which a number of stakeholders have raised in public and private. Simon Leaf, Partner and Head of Sport at Mishcon de Reya, told PoliticsHome that a conflict could potentially arise in the future when it came to international competitions that clubs could participate in.

“Conflict may… potentially arise in the future when it comes to authorised competitions that clubs can participate in – where clubs may seek to participate in a FIFA or UEFA organised competition that for some reason the regulator decides to deem a 'prohibited competition,” he said.

“All in all, it is fair to say that until FIFA come out and categorically support the government's move here, we are living in uncertain times,” he added.

Earlier this week PoliticsHome reported that industry figures had raised concerns about elite clubs' participation in the Champions League and the national team's involvement in the World Cup. The DCMS said the claims were "completely false".

Frazer said in an interview with The Times said the Premier League was “world-leading” and the Government had “absolutely no intention of damaging the golden goose.”

“What we want to ensure is that football as a whole is sustainable,” she said. “That is why the legislation is light-touch. That is why it’s stated within the bill that the regulator should work very closely with the leagues, including the Premier League. They have absolutely nothing to fear.”

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