Independent regulator for English football 'endorsed in principle' by government

Tracey Crouch believes independent regulator will strengthen English football

The creation of an independent regulator for English football (IREF) has been "endorsed in principle" by the government.

The idea is the primary recommendation of a fan-led review of football governance, which has been welcomed by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

In a ministerial statementexternal-link she said the government will work on a "substantive response" to be presented next spring.

"We are at a turning point for football in this country," she said.

"Football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game.

"The government will now work at pace to determine the most effective way to deliver an independent regulator, and any powers that might be needed."

The review was chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, who told BBC Sport that English football needs an independent regulator to stop it "lurching from crisis to crisis".

Dorries responded on social media,external-link saying: "We've seen clubs with centuries of traditions, such as Bury and Macclesfield Town, disappear entirely, while the European Super League threatened the very foundations of the game.

"The review also lays bare that incentives in the game all too often lead to reckless financial decision making.

"Football clubs are the hearts of their local communities, and this government will ensure they are properly run and fans are protected."

Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens called for the government to accept all of the review's recommendations immediately and described them as a "package" to be accepted together, saying: "Anything less would be a botched job."

Speaking to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow said the Premier League would find it "difficult to do much more" given the financial commitments it has already made to supporting the English football pyramid.

"The Premier League has really always been the source of funding for the rest of football and the danger here is killing the golden goose, if we over-regulate a highly successful financial and commercial operation," he said.

"I think we have to be very careful as we contemplate reform that it does not ultimately damage the game. We already have a hugely successful English football Premier League - the most successful in the world."

Purslow added that "conflating Bury with the European Super League, I really don't get that as the starting off point," and with regards to Newcastle United's Saudi Arabian-backed takeover that "the idea that one regulator or one executive would have gone against the grain and blocked a takeover, is pretty far-fetched".

Crouch, speaking to the Sports Desk podcast, said Purslow's comments were "slightly disingenuous".

"Christian is right that part of the revenue does trickle down into the league but where it's disingenuous is that two thirds of that money actually goes in parachute payments to a very small number of football clubs, including Christian's club."

She added: "One of the arguments from the EFL is that yes, money does come out of the Premier League and into the rest of the Football League but the vast majority of that money goes to a very small number of clubs which in turn distorts competition and creates some of the problems that we've seen cause financial crises in other clubs."

'A historic moment' - Neville

Gary Neville, who has championed the idea after recent issues with financing, ownership and the European Super League, says the review is a "historic moment".

"It's an opportunity for the game to come together and unify instead of acting in self-interest and greed."

The Salford City co-owner added "anybody who has got integrity or is working in a transparent fashion should not fear an independent regulator".

Neville has been a vocal critic of football's governance and helped launch a petition for the review.

"This could be a blueprint for sports that feel as though they are stuck or haven't got alignment interests across the sport. From the elite level down to the paying supporter, we need that connection back."

Review recommends alcohol pilot

One of the review's 47 recommendations is for a pilot on the sale of alcohol in sight of the pitch at selected League Two and National League matches.

It highlighted the financial benefits to clubs of being able to sell alcohol this way, describing it as "perverse" that Dulwich Hamlet lost revenue as a result of their promotion from National League South to the National League, where alcohol cannot be consumed in sight of the pitch.

The review called for The Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 to at least be reviewed, saying: "The legislation is nearly 40 years old, has never been reviewed and the commercial benefits to lower league clubs could go some way to helping ensure their sustainability for their communities."

The UK's football policing lead, chief constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police, said: "There is a clear link between alcohol and poor behaviour, not just in football but broader society, and increasingly we are seeing growing concerns in rugby and cricket about the negative impact on fans' experiences.

"At a time when we are seeing worrying instances of violence at football at all levels, the timing of this proposal seems quite bizarre and if it were to lead to changes in the current legislative approach it would be an irresponsible act that would lead to more violence in our stadiums."

Around the BBC - SoundsAround the BBC footer - Sounds

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC