football fans white paper

Fans to be ‘put at heart of football’ in govt White Paper

The UK government has published one of two long-awaited White Papers – the first concerning the current structure and management of English football,  revelead this morning

Initiated by the government in the aftermath of the European Super League (ESL) backlash back in May 2021 under then-PM Boris Johnson, the Fan-Led Review Of Football was led by Tracey Crouch CBE MP and was submitted to the government in April.

Publishing its White Paper based on the report’s findings, the government has stated that a football regulator will be created to prevent the financial failings and attempted breakaway tournaments from the established football pyramid.

The regulator was outlined as one of the main objectives of the review earlier this year, although perhaps most significantly for the betting industry – ahead of the publication of its own White Paper – is that fans will be given a greater say in the running of clubs. SBC News Fans to be ‘put at heart of football’ in govt White Paper

Rishi Sunak remarked: “Since its inception over 165 years ago, English football has been bringing people together, providing a source of pride for communities and inspiration to millions of fans across the country.

“Yet despite the success of the sport both at home and abroad, we know that there are real challenges which threaten the stability of clubs both big and small.

“These bold new plans will put fans back at the heart of football, protect the rich heritage and traditions of our much-loved clubs and safeguard the beautiful game for future generations.”

Clarity still needed on betting – but fan opinions could hold more sway

The review will ‘guarantee fans a greater say in the strategic running of their clubs’, and also require owners to consult supporters before changing team names, badges and home shirt colours. 

Whilst this caveat was most likely introduced due to fan backlash against unpopular club rebrandings – such as Cardiff City’s change from blue to red and Hull City’s renaming as ‘Hull Tigers’ – fan influence over ‘strategic direction’ could potentially impact clubs’ relationship with betting.

With the White Paper on the Gambling Act review slated for publication in ‘the coming months’ after 26 months in development, betting sponsorship and marketing in football has come under scrutiny.

Some segments of fans have taken an active part in lobbying for clubs to end their long-standing association with betting and gaming, in some cases working with advocacy groups such as Gambling With Lives.

Amidst the Gambling Act review examining sponsorship deals, clubs such as Aston VIlla and Everton signed new partnerships with operators this season, prompting anger from sections of their support. 

As gambling awaits its own legislative judgement, the potential impacts of both White Papers on football’s relationship with betting have yet to be seen.

However, it was reported by the BBC earlier this week that Premier League clubs will most likely agree to a phase out of gambling sponsorships, having secured their own terms to such an arrangement last year.

Keeping the ‘big six’ in place

Meanwhile, on wider football structuring, the football White Paper has moved to address the controversy of the ESL – the backlash surrounding the breakaway tournament was the primary catalyst behind the review in the first place. SBC News Fans to be ‘put at heart of football’ in govt White Paper

The government noted in the White Paper that ‘plans for a breakaway European Super League by a select group of Premier League and other European elite clubs were shelved after widespread public condemnation and action from the Government and football authorities’.

In consultation with the FA and fans, the regulator will now be able to stop English clubs from participating in competitions which do not meet its ‘predetermined criteria’. 

Earlier this month, A22 Sports Management pushed for a revamped European league, which would be based purely on sporting performance and with no permanent members. 

This received further backlash from fans and leagues, with LaLiga President describing it as ‘the wolf who today disguises himself as a granny to try to fool European football’. 

Instead, a solution led by those running the leagues and their clubs is needed, according to the government. As mentioned above, policymakers have moved to prevent clubs from pursuing such breakaway projects.

However, although the ESL was deemed as ‘harming the domestic game’, the White Paper notes a continuing serious financial risk in the leagues, with a combined net debt of clubs in the top two divisions of the EFL having reached £5.9bn by the end of the 2020/21 season.

The White Paper noted that ‘repeat financial failings’ at teams such as Derby County, Macclesfield Town and Bury – the latter famously sold for £1 in 2019 – need to be addressed to secure the long-term stability of English football. SBC News Fans to be ‘put at heart of football’ in govt White Paper

Lucy Frazer, newly appointed DCMS Secretary, said: “Our plans will ensure that clubs manage their finances in a responsible way, and prevent unscrupulous owners from treating clubs as expendable commodities rather than the beloved community assets that they are.

“This is about protecting the beautiful game, making sure we remain home to the strongest league in the world, and safeguarding clubs big and small across the country.”

On finances, the clubs’ relationship with betting could again be analysed, as some stakeholders, particularly those in the lower leagues, have pointed to the key role played by operator sponsorship deals with fiscally supporting teams.

The regulator’s remit – what can we expect?

​​The government outlined that on financial and conduct related disputes its ‘preferred outcome’ was for clubs and authorities to find solutions, in which the regulator will only intervene should it be required to do so.

As such all stakeholders working in professional football, were urged to understand and recognise the regulator’s remit and duties.

The regulator is primarily tasked with “ensuring club directors demonstrate good basic financial practices, have appropriate financial resources and protect the core assets of the club.” 

Wider duties will see it “improve club and league governance through the introduction of a Football Club Corporate Governance Code”, in which it will “remain proportionate and adaptive in its approach with checks and balances embedded in its design”. SBC News Fans to be ‘put at heart of football’ in govt White Paper

Leading the review, Tracey Crouch CBE MP said: “ The introduction of a new independent regulator of football will strengthen our incredible pyramid, giving investors, fans and communities confidence in the governance of our clubs, enabling them to thrive in the best leagues in the world.

“Football is nothing without its fans, and the announcement today will ensure they remain at its heart while it continues to grow at home and abroad.” 

Supporting football’s continued development, the government will review “the efficiency of the existing visa system for English football in attracting the best global talent.”

The recommendations of the White Paper will be followed by a further consultation with selected stakeholders on inbound reforms, in which stakeholders will be alerted as to when legislation will be announced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

​​Concluding its Fan-led review, the government outlined its commitment to preserving the Premier League as “the envy of club competitions around the world and the Government remains fully behind its continued success’.

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