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English football needs independent regulator – former FA chairman David Bernstein

Bernstein led the FA for three years from January 2011

English football needs an independent regulator to solve its “crisis”, says a group of key figures led by ex-Football Association chairman David Bernstein.

Former England defender Gary Neville, ex-Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis and the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, are also part of the group.

They have issued a manifesto for change titled ‘Saving Our Beautiful Game’.

It comes after the Premier League rejected ‘Project Big Picture’ reforms led by Liverpool and Manchester United.

“If the EPL [English Premier League] is to perform its role as the pinnacle of the domestic game, its responsibilities and financial contribution to the wider game need to be more carefully defined,” said the manifesto.

“It also needs to be complemented by an effective and independent body to oversee the financial regulation of the game.

“The FA lacks credibility and has proved to be largely ineffective as a governing body. It has not modernised and is not sufficiently independent.”

It added that “core issues” that need to be dealt with include:

  • Financial disparity and unsustainability
  • A power structure that is fundamentally out of balance
  • The shortage of BAME coaches and managers at the top level, a general lack of diversity and the “exploitation” of clubs and fans

The group said it is clear “football has shown itself incapable of self-reform”.

It added that “the conclusion is crystal clear” and that “external involvement is required in the form of an independent regulator or commissioner supported by statutory powers” to ensure meaningful change.

‘Project Big Picture’ was put forward amid clubs trying to deal with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Its suggestions included reducing the Premier League from 20 to 18 clubs and scrapping the EFL Cup and Community Shield.

In addition, the English Football League would have received 25% of all future TV deals, which would have been negotiated jointly, plus a £250m bail-out.

However, it would also have seen more power transferred to the so-called ‘big six’ Premier League clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham.

The controversial plans were rejected at a meeting of the 20 clubs in England’s top flight on Wednesday, with the members agreeing to “work together” on a new “strategic plan” for the “financing of English football”.

And, while they did agree on a £50m rescue package for League One and Two clubs, there was no decision over financial support for the Championship.

‘Football may come kicking and screaming’

Bernstein led the FA for three years from January 2011 and was also previously chairman of Manchester City.

He has his doubts about the Premier League coming up with a new “strategic plan” and believes in the need for a parliamentary-backed independent regulator after previous reform plans failed to deliver change.

“It’s all very well suddenly talking about strategic plans a day after something else has fallen through,” Bernstein told BBC Sport’s Laura Scott.

“It doesn’t ring really true to me. I don’t believe that football across the board is going to be able to come together sufficiently to do this.”

He added: “Football may come kicking and screaming into this, it may well have to be forced on football.

“History has repeated itself time and time again, football has not taken up the opportunities it has had to fundamentally reform, and we are seeing the consequences, it’s there in front of us.

“I think everybody agrees something has to be done – people differ on what it might be. I think the other things you’re seeing are potentially either unworkable or destructive for part of the game as we know and love.”

How would ‘Saving Our Beautiful Game’ manifesto help?

“Today the Football League (EFL), the National League and their clubs face by their own admission a potentially catastrophic future unless a long-term solution is found. Many professional clubs are close to liquidation,” said the manifesto.

“We believe that if our recommendations were enforced then such help would have been easier to arrange within a clear framework for the relationship between the Premier League and the rest of the game. Sadly, no such framework exists.

“This manifesto is an attempt to deal with these longer term issues and put English football in a stronger, better balanced position for the benefit of all going forward.

“Our conclusion is clear and radical. External involvement in the form of a regulator supported by statutory powers is required to reform the way our national game is governed.

“This is the only realistic way to bring real change, stability and long-term health to professional and grassroots football in this country.”

What would the new independent regulator do?

The group behind the manifesto wants the government to pass legislation in parliament for the new independent regulator, who it says should:

  • be independent of the current structure of the game
  • decide on new ways of distributing funds to the wider game based on a funding formula and a fair levy payable by the EPL
  • set up a new and comprehensive licensing system for the professional game
  • review causes of financial stress in the EFL including parachute payments, solidarity payments, salary caps and mandatory relegation clauses in players’ contracts
  • implement governance reforms at the FA which are essential to ensure it is truly independent, diverse and representative of English football today
  • liaise with supporters’ organisations to progress issues that are of concern to fans and provide a greater voice for supporters
  • study lessons from abroad and seek to champion supporter involvement in the running of clubs

Who is part of the group putting the manifesto forward?

  • David Bernstein – former FA and Manchester City chairman
  • Gary Neville – former England and Manchester United defender
  • Denise Lewis – British former Olympic heptathlon gold medal winner
  • Andy Burnham – Mayor of Greater Manchester
  • David Davies – Former FA executive director
  • Helen Grant – Conservative MP
  • Lord Mervyn King – former Bank of England governor and ex-Aston Villa director
  • Greg Scott – Lawyer

What next?

The manifesto says that the new body should be funded from within football rather than by the taxpayer and should also focus on issues to do with greater diversity and inclusion, the women’s game and football for the disabled.

It added: “If government time is not forthcoming, we would urge the introduction of a private members’ bill in 2021 to bring forward these reforms.

“We are optimistic that such a bill supported by government and with cross party support from MPs and peers would have a real prospect of success.”

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