New Culture Secretary urged to strengthen proposals for independent regulator

A football reform group hopes new Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer will further strengthen Government proposals to regulate the sport which were leaked to the media last week.

Details of Government plans to create an independent regulator to make clubs more sustainable and more accountable to their supporters appeared in The Sun last Thursday.

The official White Paper responding to the recommendations of the fan-led review of football had been due for publication on Wednesday but the PA news agency learned on Tuesday that its release had been pushed back by at least two weeks.

Frazer has replaced Michelle Donelan as Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of a mini reshuffle by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Niall Couper, the chief executive of football reform group Fair Game, had given the leaked plans a B-plus but hopes the delay in publication can have positive consequences.

“Lucy Frazer has the weight of expectations on her shoulders,” Couper said.

“Clubs across the country will be eagerly waiting to see what she can deliver.

“There is no doubt that our national game needs a reboot. The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have left clubs on their knees.

“Yet so many still routinely spend more than they earn on players’ wages. At stake is the very future of our clubs. That gambling culture needs to end.

“We were hours away from the White Paper finally being published. Leaks of the paper had a lot of promise. Our hope is that the delay allows her to strengthen the proposals and focus on delivering a fairer financial flow in football. A flow that rewards well-run clubs and ends that gambling culture endemic in the game.”

Fair Game advocates for funding to be at least partially determined by a Sustainability Index, rewarding well-run clubs based on four key criteria, a detail which did not feature in the plans leaked last week.

The Sun report did appear to indicate that the Government did support the fan-led review recommendation for a regulator to be given backstop powers if the football authorities could not agree a new financial distribution settlement between them.

The recommendations of the fan-led review were published in November 2021.

The review had been part of the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 General Election but was commissioned earlier than originally planned in the wake of the Super League scandal in April 2021, with Conservative MP and former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced as the panel’s chair.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch chaired the fan-led review panel
Conservative MP Tracey Crouch chaired the fan-led review panel (DCMS Handout/PA)

The White Paper was initially scheduled for publication last summer before political upheaval at the top of the Conservative Party led to lengthy delays.

There was no mention of a transfer levy in the Sun’s report on the blueprint. Crouch and her review panel had recommended a levy of up to 10 per cent on Premier League transfer deals to further support the pyramid, which it estimated could raise an extra £160million a year.

The Sun reported that the regulator would operate a licensing system designed to ensure clubs were being run sustainably and for the benefit of their supporters and the communities they serve.

It will do this, The Sun reported, by introducing new tests intended to more thoroughly vet owners, ensure minimum standards for fan engagement around key decisions related to a club’s cultural heritage and crucially require teams only to enter competitions approved by the regulator – effectively preventing the possibility of a future breakaway league.