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Football Governance Bill

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024

I wish to inform both Houses that the Government have today introduced the Football Governance Bill into Parliament, marking a critical milestone towards the establishment of an independent football regulator.

Football is a defining part of our national identity, with clubs bringing fans and communities together week in, week out. It is a multibillion-pound industry with a truly global footprint, and we are committed to securing its future growth. But in recent years it has become clear that there are systemic issues at the heart of our national game that the industry has failed to resolve itself, despite repeated calls for reform. The consequences of these issues can be catastrophic.

The collapse of clubs like Bury and Macclesfield Town, the devastating impact of the pandemic and the failed attempt by some English clubs to join a breakaway European super league have all demonstrated the financial issues in the game and the need for more accountability to fans.

This legislation is the next step in our ongoing commitment to safeguard the future of football clubs for the benefit of communities and fans. It follows the Government’s White Paper, “A sustainable future—reforming club football governance”, published in February 2023, which built on the fan-led review of football governance’s recommendations and set out a comprehensive plan to introduce an independent regulator.

In developing the Bill, we have taken the time to carefully consider the full range of recommendations set out in the review and we believe our policy will legally achieve the proposed outcomes while ensuring a proportionate approach.

Introducing an independent football regulator will strengthen the governance and financial resilience of football clubs to protect the national game and clubs’ links with their communities and fans. The regulator will not intervene in or seek to change the sporting fundamentals of the game we love—it will ensure a more sustainable future, with fans at its heart, for generations to come.

The regulator’s primary purpose will be to ensure that English football is sustainable and resilient for the benefit of fans and the local communities football clubs serve. It will achieve this by:

Operating a licensing system, where all clubs in the top five tiers of the men’s English football pyramid will need a licence to operate.

Establishing a new, strengthened owners’ and directors’ test to make sure a club’s custodians are suitable and to protect fans from irresponsible owners.

Setting a minimum standard of fan engagement and requiring clubs to comply with new FA rules on club heritage, giving fans a veto over changes to the badge and home shirt colours, as well as the strong existing protections for club names.

Requiring clubs to seek regulator pre-approval for any sale or relocation of their stadium.

Preventing clubs from joining breakaway leagues that do not have the support of the fans or that threaten the heritage or sustainability of English football.

Having a backstop power to intervene in the distribution of broadcast revenue when the leagues fail to reach an agreement—subject to certain thresholds being met.

Establishing a compulsory “Football Club Corporate Governance Code”.

The regulatory regime will be designed to be proportionate and, as such, the regulator will not adopt a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, it will tailor any intervention to the specific circumstances it faces and in doing so will avoid placing unnecessary regulatory burdens on clubs. The regulator’s approach will be advocacy-first: aiming to work constructively with clubs and then leagues to resolve issues wherever it can. Only where this has proven ineffective, or in the most urgent cases or serious instances of non-compliance, will the regulator have powers to intervene more directly or strongly.

This legislation also recognises that English football is a source of significant importance to fans and communities across the country. It will establish a new regulatory framework in a way that ensures the regulator must seek to minimise adverse impacts on financial investment in English football or on club competitiveness, and minimises the impact on sporting outcomes in general. This will balance the need for change to secure the long-term future of our national game and the need to restore fans’ place at its heart with the importance of ensuring continued global success.

In developing these proposals, we have undertaken significant engagement with a broad range of stakeholders and experts. This has included regular meetings with the Premier League, the English Football League, the National League, the Football Association (FA) and the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), as well as official and ministerial-level meetings with clubs across the football pyramid. I want to thank all who have engaged with us throughout the entire process, and helped us shape the Bill.

We will continue to work and engage with industry, fan groups and across Parliament as the Bill progresses to ensure we can deliver on urgently needed regulation. Alongside the legislation, the Government have established a shadow regulator, which will act as a forerunner to the regulator with responsibility for set-up activity and preparatory work for the regulatory regime.

I would welcome the support of colleagues across both Houses as we take this important legislation forward.