Oxford United supporter groups back independent football regulator

Football’s independent regulator will have the power to settle the ongoing row over financial distribution between the Premier League and the EFL.

The Government has long warned the football authorities the regulator would have ‘backstop powers’ to intervene if a deal is not reached.

“These powers mean that if the leagues fail to agree on a new deal on financial distributions, then the backstop can be triggered to ensure a settlement is reached,” a Government announcement on the Bill said.

On behalf of the Oxford United Supporters Panel, Janine Bailey said: “The Oxford United Supporters Panel welcomes the progress announced today regarding the Football Governance Bill, which recognises the importance of fans through enhanced requirements on fan engagement, and places financial sustainability at its centre.

“Whilst self regulation is fine in an ideal world, that is not the world we live in.

“The failure of the Premier League to table a meaningful proposal on funding distribution over recent weeks is one example of this. 

“The assets of football clubs need protecting for their communities. We look forward to seeing how the regulator will oversee this.

“Close to home, the sale of Oxford United’s Manor Ground followed by two decades of playing in a stadium we do not own has been operationally and financially limiting. 

“Just a few miles away, Reading is struggling to meet regular bills and they look to be selling their Training Ground at a knock-down price to fund the next few months. 

“Every club is potentially one owner away from a similar fate. We hope the bill will implement the promised strengthened owner’s and director’s tests, and put in place meaningful enforcement.”

A spokesperson for OxVox supporters said: “On the whole, we support efforts to establish an independent regulator for football in this country.

“Football is now a multi billion pound business but it is too important to leave in the hands of those at the very top of the top table.

“At one extreme we have seen the threat of a European breakaway league, and at the other long-established community clubs going out of business.

“Fans across the country do not want a closed shop and are united in wanting football to remain a meritocracy in which any team, even our own, can aspire to the top division and share in the success.”

Precise details over the point at which the powers would be triggered – and what those powers would look like – have not yet been confirmed but the Government said in a consultation response last September that one option it was considering was binding final offer arbitration.

Under that system, the two leagues would each submit their proposal, the regulator would assess them against predetermined criteria, and then would choose and impose one as the binding arrangement.

There had been hope that the Premier League’s clubs would make a formal offer to the EFL at a meeting last Monday, but none was forthcoming and instead the Premier League said its clubs were focused on first agreeing new financial rules for the top flight.

A Premier League statement released on Monday evening read: “The Premier League will now study the Football Governance Bill, working closely with Government, parliamentarians and key stakeholders.

“We agree it is vital that football clubs are sustainable, remain at the heart of their communities and that fans are fundamental to the game.”

The regulator’s primary purpose, once established, will be to safeguard the financial sustainability of clubs in England through a licensing system. This will cover clubs from the National League up to the Premier League.

The Government has said the regulator will have the ability to fine clubs up to 10 per cent of turnover for non-compliance.

It will also have the power to block clubs from competing in unapproved competitions, a nod to the outrage among fans caused by England’s ‘Big Six’ seeking to form a European Super League in April 2021.

The Government intends the regulator’s licensing regime to be “proportionate” and said it will involve a system of provisional and full licences, to give clubs time to transition.

The regulator will have the power to assess prospective new owners and directors and disqualify them where they persistently or wilfully fail to comply with licensing conditions, the Government said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “For too long some clubs have been abused by unscrupulous owners who get away with financial mismanagement, which at worst can lead to complete collapse – as we saw in the upsetting cases of Bury and Macclesfield Town.

“This Bill is a historic moment for football fans – it will make sure their voices are front and centre, prevent a breakaway league, protect the financial sustainability of clubs, and protect the heritage of our clubs big and small.”

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