Labour demands Tory leader candidates commit to football governance reforms

Elliot Chappell

Labour has demanded that the candidates in the Conservative leadership election commit to bringing forward long-delayed reforms to football governance to “stop any more clubs going bust, or being used as a play thing for the wealthy”.

Commenting ahead of the start of the English Football League (EFL) season this weekend, comprised of 72 teams playing in the Championship, League One and League Two, Labour’s Jeff Smith said “football clubs are at the heart of communities”.

“They’re much more than businesses, but great sources of identity and pride in our towns,” the shadow sports minister argued.

“Last season saw the near collapse of Derby County, Oldham’s relegation, and Abramovich throwing the future of Chelsea into chaos. Fans and clubs are starting yet another season with no sign of reform on the horizon.

“This distracted government has spent more time tearing itself apart than delivering reforms for communities. All leadership candidates should commit to urgently bringing in new laws to stop any more clubs going bust, or being used as a play thing for the wealthy.”

The government said earlier this year that it would establish an independent regulator for football, equipped with the power to sanction clubs in English football who break financial and other rules, after it endorsed the recommendations made in a “fan-led review” into the men’s game.

The review, chaired by former Tory sports minister Tracey Crouch, was launched following a number of high-profile crises in the sport. Crouch said in July 2021 that there is a “strong case” for an independent regulator and later made ten recommendations to the government on how to improve football governance.

No timeline for implementing the changes has been announced. The government said a white paper (policy documents that set out proposals for future laws in detail) would be published this summer. Labour’s Lucy Powell said at the time that delaying the introduction of legislation until 2024 was “a real disappointment”.

The review called for redistributive measures including the implementation of mandatory relegation clauses in Premier League players’ contracts to prevent relegated clubs from having unsustainable wage bills and needing large ‘parachute payments’, and a redistribution of that money to more clubs in the lower leagues.

It argued that these measures should be renegotiated by the leagues but if they cannot agree a solution must be imposed. The Premier League has been warned by the government that it must agree a deal to deliver hundreds of millions of pounds more to the lower leagues.

The Times reported earlier this week that a ‘new deal for football’, which included a reduction in parachute payments and the introduction of merit-based payments in the Sky Bet Championship, had drawn support from top-flight clubs at a shareholders meeting.

The proposed arrangement would allocate funding to clubs in the Championship on a sliding scale of funding based on where they finish in the table, similar to the merit payments in the Premier League. It would also introduce a new system of cost control to prevent lavish spending.

Labour has said that while some progress has been made since the review launched, “there is still no agreement on distribution of funding between the Premier League and the EFL” and added that “despite the women’s roaring success at the Euros”, a chair for the review of the women’s game has not been announced.

Commenting earlier this week on concerns that the departure of Boris Johnson and change of Prime Minister could result in the reforms being abandoned, sports minister Nigel Huddleston said the recommendations have got “broad support within the Conservative party” and that “the intent is still to proceed with them”.

“Of course, a new administration coming in and No 10 clearance on things is always something that process-wise we need to be conscious of, but my understanding is both [leadership] candidates are still supportive of it,” he added.

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