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Southend United supporters protest against owner Ron Martin - the club faced an HMRC winding-up petition last month (© Alamy)

Government backing isn’t government control – here’s why

Those who hold the power in football argue that the creation of an independent regulator is “state control” – but it’s a misleading argument and entirely cynical in its attempts to weaponise the lack of trust in politics to avoid reform.

We don’t want the Government to run football – but we do want the Government to set up a system that regulates the game as is common in many other countries.

The people who don’t want independent regulation for the game would like you to believe that what is currently being proposed is government control of our game. But saying government backing equals state control is misleading.

Football has said it can regulate itself for years. What has become very clear is that it can’t.

There have been too many crises, too many clubs in trouble or lost for good. That’s why we have argued for an independent regulator. And that is what is being proposed in the Government’s White Paper.

For that regulator to be truly independent, and to have the power to regulate, it needs to have what are called statutory powers. These are powers based on a system of rules formally written down and enforceable in law. Without statutory powers, a regulator can only offer advice or give an opinion which clubs would be free to ignore.

And for something to be enforceable in law it needs to be approved by Parliament.

Underpinned by law

So if a regulator is not established by a Bill that passes into law through Parliament, and therefore has statutory powers, it will have no power. And that’s why the people who don’t want independent regulation for football don’t want it underpinned by law.

The plan for an independent regulator has been put forward partly because huge numbers of football supporters lobbied their MPs over many years to do something about the way our game is run. In response to that, in 2019, the Conservative Party then included a manifesto commitment to a fan-led review of football governance.

The fact that the Government is now planning to introduce statutory regulation shows that the system can work, and that there is a real commitment to the regulator having power. That’s what those who currently hold the power in football don’t want.

Regulation will only be independent and effective if it is underpinned by legislation introduced by the government. Without that measure those who currently control football will ensure that a regulator is toothless – packed with the usual self-interested owners and their appointed executives.

Governments and independent regulators are subject to a far greater level of public scrutiny and accountability than those who own football clubs or run football competitions.

Who controls football?

Another argument we hear is that independent regulation will mean the game is controlled by ‘people who don’t know what they are doing’.

We could provide a long list of examples of the people who have held power in football showing they don’t know what they are doing, but, as was strongly argued by former Competition and Markets Authority chair David Currie in a speech on the British model of regulation over 10 years ago, independent specialist regulators are able to build up more expertise than it is possible for central government to have.

The argument that statutory regulation equals government control of football is a cynical last-gasp attempt by those who currently hold power in football to turn back the tide of reform. They are prepared to fuel lack of faith in parliamentary democracy to try and ensure they can continue to do exactly what they want.

That is a sign of desperation, and we’re not falling for it.

Action!

Football governance often doesn’t seem important until it’s your club in crisis. Then it’s THE most important thing. These proposals are a strong reflection of FSA arguments and ideas which have been years in the making. Contact your MP and tell them you back the formation of an Independent Regulator for Football – you can use these bullet points in support of your argument.

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