Home » Sir Keir Starmer vows to protect Premier League’s status as world leading football competition

Sir Keir Starmer vows to protect Premier League’s status as world leading football competition

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to work to protect the Premier League’s status as the world’s leading football competition, echoing some of its concerns about the introduction of a football regulator.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the Labour leader sidestepped calls for the regulator to have the power to act on foreign state ownership of clubs.

It comes as the Premier League is in the midst of a lobbying campaign warning of “unintended consequences” to their global standing by the biggest shake-up in decades to the running of the national game.

“I think they’ve got their concerns and we’re listening to what they have to say,” Sir Keir told Sky News. “[The bill] supports the lower league clubs to give them the financial sustainability that we need.

“But we must also protect the Premier League. We’ve got the best football in the world in this country, and I want to make sure that’s fully protected.

“So that’s why it’s important for us all to consult with all relevant parties, and make sure the model that we’re putting in place for the first time is the right model, is sustainable. And it does protect all those interests, including the Premier League.”

Sir Keir Starmer in conversation with Sky News’ Rob Harris

Keir Starmer pictured with ex-Arsenal player Martin Keown
Sir Keir Starmer pictured with ex-Arsenal player Martin Keown

Sir Keir seemingly backed the government’s plan, which has seen the powers of the regulator watered down since its initial unveiling.

It will no longer have the power to recommend sporting sanctions for clubs – ruling out points deductions for breaching regulations on finances and respecting the desires of fans.

There are also no powers for the regulator to stop further funding of clubs by states with problematic human rights records.

Three years ago, Sir Keir evaded answering on the Saudi takeover of Newcastle by leaving that to a future football regulator.

“I do think that the regulator could look at the general question of ownership and a fit and proper person to own a club,” Mr Starmer said. “There’s a role, obviously, for the secretary of state under the bill, as it’s drafted.

“It may be amended as we go along to set the guidance in place. And I think that’s the place where we need to look at the detail of it.”

As an Arsenal fan, his club benefits from Rwanda state funding through a sponsorship.

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A question on the nation’s human rights record was turned by him into an attack on the government’s attempt to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Asked whether it was right that the regulator has to factor in the government’s foreign and trade policy, Sir Keir diverted to a different topic.

“I think this is something which you’re going to have to tease out in the bill as we go through,” he said.

“It’s only at the second reading stage, but there is that provision there. No doubt the bill committee will look at that very, very carefully.

“But … it is an opportunity to put in place the framework that we need. And also I mean, here we are looking at the England set-up, we’ve got the women’s team have done brilliantly. Women’s football has gone through the roof.”

But pressed on whether he was happy with non-democratic nations owning football clubs, he replied: “At the moment, women’s football, is obviously not within the bill that we’re currently looking at, but there is an opportunity to learn the lessons to make sure that in women’s football, some of the mistakes that have been made in the men’s game are not made, again, in terms of ownership.

“That’s why I think we need the fit and proper person test. That should be an independent decision made by the regulator with the best interests of football at heart.”

Sir Keir was speaking to Sky News after touring St George’s Park and holding a shadow cabinet meeting at the home of the England football teams.

An association with the patron saint of England was an attempt to display the party’s patriotic credentials.

Encouraging more children into sport is the Labour leader’s plan – particularly state-school girls.

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But asked if that means no more playing fields being sold off under a Labour government, Sir Keir replied: “It doesn’t mean no more playing fields, but we’ve got a deficit of football pitches.

“One of the biggest struggles for young boys and girls is that they haven’t got enough pitches for them to play on. So we need more pitches, not less pitches.”

But how to fund that?

“Funding is going to be tight. Of course it’s going to be tight,” he said. “The economy has been broken under this government, but there are things that we can do in terms of the funding that goes into our schools.”

Community funding for pitches is the Labour plan.

Mr Starmer said: “What’s missing at the moment is a sense of political binding in sport and understanding why sport is so important to our physical health, our mental health, and to the skills that we’re going to need for the lives we’re going to be leading.”