Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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The state of our national game has been a story of rich man, poor man, with the very rich clubs with billionaire owners seeking to make themselves even more revenue. We have seen that with Project Big Picture and the European super league. At the same time, much-valued and cherished local clubs such as Bury, Bolton and Wigan have not survived, or are struggling to survive. The major organisations in England—the Premier League, the Football Association, and the English Football League—are becoming both unable and unwilling to act responsibly in the interests of the wider game of football, and of supporters and their communities. It is therefore important to review the ownership structures and mechanisms of football clubs in this country so that they can be made to act responsibly, and to look at the governance of football clubs going forward so that they can be obliged to behave responsibly and conduct themselves in a manner that satisfies all the stakeholders in the game.

There are also a wide variety of levels of effective engagement and communication between clubs and their supporters throughout the various leagues in England. This can be improved in a number of ways, such as by allowing fans on to club boards and examining new methods of allowing fans to take some ownership of the club they support. In addition, carrying out comparisons between the organisation of leagues in other countries and those in this country could yield some answers. The often-cited 50+1 model in the German Bundesliga may not be implementable in England—although the Prime Minister has threatened that—but there may well be other ways of increasing fan influence over club decision making that fall short of that model. There is also some discussion about the ownership of golden shares, which could give some special ownership rights or privileges to fans, enabling them to bring additional influence to bear on decision making.

There is a view that foreign owners should be treated differently for a variety of reasons, some relating to human rights and some political. Those views could be put under the remit of the football regulator and taken into consideration when the licensing process takes effect. However, in my view, where clubs have been shown to have conducted themselves responsibly over the years, there should be no attempt to not grant a licence when the owners of the club are not responsible for the behaviour of the Government or regime of the country in which they reside, or from which they come. The review should not be an excuse to bash foreign owners who have made investments in, and brought tremendous footballing talent to, this country.

There is no doubt in my mind about the need for a regulator who can exercise his or her powers through such a licensing system. Too often, clubs have not taken their responsibilities seriously, or indeed have not accepted that they have them. Their financial responsibilities have been made clear, but clubs should have additional responsibilities in how they engage with fans, and social responsibilities to ensure that players and fans do not engage in behaviour that would bring the game into disrepute. By that, I do not just mean violence or hooliganism: I believe in taking a firm stance on issues such as racism and homophobia. In my view, the regulator should have the power to do what individual football clubs, the Premier League, the FA and the English Football League have failed to do over the years, which is to properly regulate and police the game so that clubs have responsibilities as well as rights. That approach is far preferable to commentators, fans, and even Government Ministers giving their views from the sidelines, and nothing changing in the process.