AS THE government plans to establish a football regulator ahead of the next general election, culture minister Sir John Whittingdale has stopped short of committing to using Reading FC as a “test case.”
It comes after Reading East MP Matt Rodda lodged a debate in the House of Commons last week to discuss concerns over the football team which has seen continued struggles and unrest regarding its ownership.
On Tuesday, November 7, His Majesty The King briefly mentioned in his speech opening parliament that legislation would be put in place to “safeguard the future of football clubs.”
The following day, Mr Rodda said in the parliamentary debate surrounding the bill: “It is clear to us all that there is an ownership problem in English football.
“I will use the debate to explain the terrible impact of that ownership problem on Reading and, by implication, on many clubs across the country, and to ask the Minister to reassure fans, players, staff and local communities.”
He went on to welcome the Government’s announcement that they plan to bring forward the bill to regulate football, describing it as “an important step.”
He urged the government to take action before the next general election to secure the bill.
He was congratulated by Sir John, minister for Media, Tourism, and Creative Industries, who said: “We understand how difficult it must have been for those fans over the past few years.
“We are very much aware of the passion and interest that many honourable members feel about the long-term sustainability and governance of English football, and their commitment to their local club.”
He added that it was “depressing” that the issue was still being conducted more than a decade after an inquiry into football club ownership was conducted.
He continued: “We have heard about poor and non-existent governance practices, with fans being prevented from influencing key decisions that affect them and having to petition local councils, in some cases to protect stadiums.
“All such incidents threaten the long-term health and sustainability of all clubs, not just Reading.”
He explained that the bill will establish an independent football regulator that will help to deliver a sustainable future for all clubs and puts fans “back at the heart of football”.
It is intended strengthen the governance and financial resilience of football clubs and address systemic financial issues in football.
The bill would do so by establishing a “minimum standard of fan engagement” which clubs would need to meet.
It would do so by allowing fans a veto over changed to club badges and home shirt colours, as well as strengthening the Fit and Proper Persons assessment put in place by the English Football League.
The bill would also require clubs to seek the regulator’s approval for any sale or relocation of the stadium and to demonstrate how they have consulted their fans.
In addition, football clubs will be prevented from joining breakaway leagues, and the regulator would be given powers to intervene and force a solution regarding financial matters.
Speaking on Reading specifically, Sir John added: “I fully recognise the plight of Reading Football Club, as the Hon Gentleman described, and I understand his wish that measures should be brought in as soon as possible.
“I am afraid that I cannot commit to a pilot at this stage, but I can tell him that the experience of Reading FC and other clubs will continue to inform policy development and decisions about how the regulator is set up.”
Following the positive response during the debate, Mr Rodda has confirmed that the government has agreed to meet with him, as well as fans, to discuss the contents of the bill.