Fan led review calls for independent regulator

25 Nov 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

The long-awaited fan led review, chaired by Tracey Crouch MP, has been published. The independent review is a comprehensive examination of the English football system with the aim of exploring ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in the football pyramid.

The government initially promised a fan-led review in its 2019 general election manifesto after Bury were expelled from League One following the collapse of a takeover bid.

The review was then brought forward as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the failed attempt to launch the European Super League (ESL) in April 2021.

Since the review began, the review team heard over 100 hours of evidence from passionate fans, club leaders, interest groups, football authorities, financial experts and many others who engage day in and day out with football.

The review concluded that English football’s fragility is the result of three main factors – misaligned incentives to ‘chase success’; club corporate structures that lack governance, diversity or sufficient account of supporters failing to scrutinise decision making, and the inability of the existing regulatory structure to address the new and complex structural challenges created by the scale of modern professional men’s football.

The main recommendation is for a new Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) established by an act of Parliament, which will be focused upon specialist business regulation adapted to the football industry. This would operate a licensing system for professional men’s football. The licensing conditions would focus upon measures to ensure financial sustainability via financial regulation and improving decision making at clubs through items such as a new corporate governance code for professional football clubs, improved diversity and better supporter engagement.

The IREF would oversee the owners’ and directors’ test and require clubs to provide proof of financial sustainability, though Crouch is not expected to propose banning the kind of deals that led to the controversial Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United.

The review's recommendations also sought to address concerns over the financial disparity between the Premier League and the Championship, with clubs such as Derby County, Reading, and Birmingham City in the second tier breaching profitability and sustainability rules in attempts to gain promotion.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Julian Knight MP said he welcomed the proposal of an independent football regulator.

He said there must be "urgent government action" and called on Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to introduce a football regulator in the next Queen's Speech.