Following on what an Independent Regulator of English Football (IREF) would fundamentally do to English football, there are other crucial aspects of the Fan led Review of Football Governance.
Tracey Crouch, the Chair of the Review, has recommended key changes that would be enforceable once a regulator is introduced. Improving diversity and inclusion, corporate governance fan engagement, and financial distributions are at the heart of what the Conservative MP believes football needs to change.
In addition to this, a separate review into womens football, increasing player protection and further protecting club heritage are forwarded as key issues that also need to be addressed.
Other Fan Led Review Recommendations
Improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
English football has taken strides recently to try to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The FA’s “Football Leadership Diversity Code” and the growing voice of the LGBT+ are just two examples that the Review recognises as positive steps forward.
However, evidence shows more needs to be done. EDI would be inside the scope of the IREF so that the regulator can oversee whether standards and objectives are being met – and not in a way that is ‘box-ticking’.
The recommended EDI plan will follow on from the FA’s work by mandating it across the football pyramid and include the LGBT+ community, disabled people and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in its scheme. The regulator would scrutinise how clubs are striving towards improving their EDI.
Crucially, conclusions show confusion and a dilution of the important message can, or is, occurring with so many different programmes. The Review wants to unify the football authorities so that one clear campaign can be identified and executed across the game.
In addition, Crouch hopes a new, single repository for discriminatory reports can be established so that greater data can be acquired.
New Approach to Corporate Governance
“Even the right people can make poor decisions,” the report says. Undeniably, this is inherently true which is why the Review targets changing corporate governance in football “to support a long-term sustainable future of the game”.
To do so a Code of Football Governance is concluded as an effective way of tackling the issue. The principles (e.g. standards and conduct) and requirements (e.g. welfare, safety and safeguarding) would be based on the Sports Governance Code and be directed towards licenced clubs.
They should publish evidence publicly to show how they are complying on an annual basis. An ‘apply and explain’ system will give them the opportunity to show how they are meeting the requirements.
The Football Code would have three tiers of standards, with the Premier League and Championship being in Tier A, League One and League Two in Tier B and the National League in Tier C. Nevertheless, the catch is that once they enter a higher tier they must continue to comply with the requirements even if they are relegated to a league in a separate tier. This aims to improve the overall governance of football.
Similarly to the clubs, the Review demands that the governing bodies continue to improve their own corporate governance, by separating interests to decision-making and “the removal of historic oddities”. For example, the FA Council should not approve the FA Chair.
There are numerous ways for the club and fans to engage together that the Review identified. Fan forums, structured dialogue, a fan elected director, Shadow Boards and supporter shareholders. It concluded Germany’s ’50+1′ scheme is not realistic. The scheme would cost billions for fans to go from 0% ownership to 51% ownership.
Therefore, Crouch believes the best option would be mandating supporter engagement, although ensuring it is balanced, through Shadow Boards. Such panels will be licensed under the IREF, independent of the club and the limited size raises hopes to produce effective consultation and transparency.
Shadow Boards, as suggested, must follow the IREF’s standard, range between five and 12 members and are democratically elected and consist of a Chair. They must have representatives from different supporter groups and there is a regular turnover of members. It is recommended the Shadow Board meets with the club’s executives at least once every quarter, and at least twice per year with the club CEO.
The topic of meetings can vary from matchday experiences and the club’s heritage to the leadership’s vision and business plan.
Protecting Club Heritage
The Review views clubs as irreplaceable assets to communities and it hopes to introduce a ‘Golden Share’ requiring fans to approve issues concerning the team’s heritage. This is based on Brentford’s model of veto rights for fans regarding moving from or selling their stadium. This concept stops clubs from changing their name, location, colours, badges or joining new disputed competitions without their consent (think Super League).
The IREF licensing system will allow this to be introduced on a mandatory scale. The share would be given to a fan representative Community Benefit Society (CBS) and they will follow strict standards set by the regulator. Significantly, it cannot be traded or sold, leaving the CBS with a formidable position to protect the club.
Those that are able to vote on a controversial issue include members of the CBS, season ticket holders and someone who has attended at least one home match in the previous season.
In cases where the stadium is owned by a different company, the Government is recommended to introduce new security tenure rights so that the club is not forced out at any point. Additionally, the FA should change its rules and procedures to further protect club heritage.
Greater Financial Distribution
The Review scathingly criticises the current financial distribution system in place. First and foremost it demands the FA to scrap its formula and introduce a greater flexible method. Following on, the Review reluctantly insists that the IREF has “backstop powers” to intervene on problems that cannot be solved. Significantly, it says parachute payments need to be reformed but accepts some financial help may be required.
The authorities, alongside the Player Football Association, must also work together to ensure mandatory clauses on player salaries are introduced at a standard rate. If the team gets promoted, the players receive a pay rise. If they get relegated, they suffer a pay cut.
Crouch proposes a crucial reform that will have major implications if it were implicated. A Premier League transfer levy, or a ‘stamp duty’, at a percentage set by the IREF could be used as a form of redistribution. This money can be reinvested in a multitude of ways, such as creating more adult and children pitches.
The Chair accepts there will be consequences of this, one being transfer fees increasing. Nonetheless, Crouch believes that the wealth of the Premier League will allow them to ride this wave.
Furthermore, the regulator should be responsible for creating a report on the financial flows and costs occurring in the game so that policies can be adaptable based on these results.
Other recommendations include telling the EFL they should seek consultation on how to raise their broadcasting deals, the EFL reviewing their rules on artificial pitches and possibly introducing alcohol in terraces. The latter idea would need a lot of deliberation by every stakeholder. The review recognises any pilot scheme in the National League will be resisted by the police.
A Women’s Football Review
Compared to other sections, the time dedicated to women’s football is brief. However, this does not mean that the Review is neglectful of the issue. In fact, it concludes a full-scale review should be dedicated to it as the concerns deserve to be researched in greater detail. Such topics include the value of the sport, their affiliation with the men’s team, financial problems (e.g. a wage race and prize money) and the future of the game.
Greater Player Protection
Player protection – the final chapter of the Review – is deemed as an “urgent” matter.
It raises concerns about how many young footballers focus on pursuing their dreams but are woefully neglected if they fall short. They tend to suffer mental health problems as a result. Similarly, the Review identifies that retired players also suffer this, often struggling to make the transfer in their life. Conclusively, it suggests a welfare system that provides full-time support to those exiting the game.
Crouch also recommends for private football academies to work effectively with the County Football Associations to ensure safeguarding and educational standards are complied to. A ‘kite mark’ scheme or something similar, which allows players to compete in behind-doors friendlies, may motivate the affiliation.
Greater education should also be provided to parents in private academies to allow them to make better-informed decisions.
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