Home » Independent football regulator delayed by UK general election

Independent football regulator delayed by UK general election

British prime minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a general election on July 4 has pushed back the arrival of an independent football regulator until next year at the earliest.

It had been hoped that the much-discussed Football Governance Bill would be included in what is known as the “wash-up”, the period at the end of a parliament when bills that have not gone through every step of the legislative process can be waved through, but it has not progressed far enough.

This will come as a huge frustration to the English Football League, in particular, as it has lobbied hard for the bill’s passage into law in the hope it will force the Premier League to offer the EFL’s 72 clubs a more generous financial solidarity package.

The Premier League has been considerably less enthusiastic in its support for an independent regulator, which is the bill’s centrepiece, but it will not be celebrating too loudly as Labour, which has a huge lead in the polls, has made it clear it will re-introduce the bill at the earliest opportunity.

The delay was confirmed by former sports minister Tracey Crouch in a series of posts on X.

The Conservative MP, who has already announced she will not be standing for re-election, was the author of the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance that set out the case for independent regulation in 2021.

“Unfortunately, the Football Governance Bill will progress no further and although there is a ready-made bill for the next government, I won’t be here to see it pass,” she wrote.

Crouch then thanked everyone who has “poured their heart and soul into the bill” and wrote she remained “100 per cent convinced there will be an independent regulator for football”.

“My final plea is to the Premier League and EFL,” she added. “Please, for the sake of football, sit back down and start negotiating a deal.

“The impasse is infuriating. I know it is complex but, please, agree a deal.”

In terms of the bill, there are many in the game who will view the delay as an opportunity to reshape it when it returns to parliament under the next government.

“The bill had serious flaws,” said Niall Couper, the chief executive of Fair Game, a group of 39 EFL and non-league clubs that have united to push for a more sustainable and fan-centred industry.

“It did little to address the growing financial divide. Vested interest wasn’t even mentioned, leaving question marks over whether it would ever be truly independent. And proper fan and club consultation was almost ignored.

“Now there is a chance to redraw it and created a bill that is fit for purpose and delivers a fairer future.”

While Couper’s sentiments about taking another look at what the regular should and should not do are widely shared, there are also many who worry that the new body will interfere in matters beyond its primary objective of ensuring the game’s financial sustainability.

For example, there have been calls for the regulator to reverse the decision to scrap replays in the FA Cup or get involved in the debate about video assistant referees (VAR).

In fact, these topics came up on Wednesday, when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lucy Frazer, appeared before a committee of MPs to answer questions about her department.

When asked about replays and VAR, Frazer made it clear that it is “not the government’s job to solve every problem” and “we need to leave the game to football”.

Protests against the European Super League sparked calls for an independent regulator (Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Frazer’s comments on the potential for “mission creep” followed similar remarks from the regulator’s first employee, interim chief operating officer Martyn Henderson, at Fair Game’s annual conference on Tuesday, and Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham at the FIFA Congress in Thailand last week.

When asked about the regulator’s scope, Henderson pointed out that it could not go too far as FIFA, football’s world governing body, does not permit government interference in the game.

“A really important principle for everyone to bear in mind, when thinking about the wish list of things the regulator could do, (is that) some things are for competition organisers to do and if we cross that line we will have FIFA and (European governing body) UEFA saying to us ‘hang on’,” said Henderson.

“The FA is the regulator of the game here and the independent football regulator should be focusing on financial sustainability, systemic resilience and fan engagement, not getting into sporting matters.”

The FA, unsurprisingly, agrees.

“Our view on the regulator is that we have always been very supportive of it being a financial regulator and to look after the owners’ and directors’ test and the sustainability of clubs,” said Bullingham.

“But we’ve always been very clear — and we’ve told UEFA and FIFA this — that we would resist any further amendments that go beyond that.”

(Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)