Scottish football needs regulator

Scottish football needs regulator

An independent body overseeing clubs would benefit fans, investors and the businesses themselves

Many UK industries operate under the watchful eye of an independent regulator. Charities, financial services, transport, education and housing are just some of the sectors with stand-alone organisations that aim to ensure transparency, fairness and accountability among all involved.

These regulatory bodies incorporate experts from relevant fields to ensure that the public, as well as the users or customers of the services each offer, are safe in the knowledge that firms can be held to account in the case of any wrongdoing.

In English football, especially, there has been heightened debate about the need for an independent regulator following instances of financial issues at several clubs. Manchester City has come under fire with 115 charges primarily relating to alleged breaches of the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules while, at the other end of the spectrum, Bury FC was also banished from the English Football League after 125 years due to unpaid debts.

In 2022, following a fan-led investigation into the game, the UK Government announced plans to establish an independent regulator in football. The new organisation would have the power to hold clubs to account on financial rules and other elements relating to the business of football.

Despite it looking like the Football Governance Bill was progressing well through the House of Commons, approval of the new legislation has now been placed on the back burner following the recent announcement of a General Election. However, this pause presents a good opportunity to review Scotland’s position and whether Holyrood will follow Westminster’s lead in establishing an independent football regulator.

Such a move could offer significant benefits for clubs, ensuring their long-term sustainability and integrity within the sport. While this is favourable for a club’s players, managers, and owners, it could also be invaluable for the fans. Football clubs are pivotal to communities and local economies, and additional oversight could safeguard their continued operation for years to come.

Nonetheless, many involved in the Scottish football community believe that the overall governance structure requires scrutiny, with some arguing that the current voting system favours larger, more successful clubs.

Introducing regulation would ultimately support the enforcement of financial fair play. In Premier League football especially, the financial disparities between clubs have tended to skew competition, with wealthier teams often outspending their rivals, but an independent regulator could help to track spending and minimise debt accumulation if required. By promoting financial sustainability, it can ensure clubs are built on solid financial foundations that are fit for the future. Transparency and accountability are additional key benefits. Under a new regulatory body, clubs would be required to disclose financial transactions, player transfers, and other operational details more openly. This may even support the relationship with fans, investors, and other stakeholders, demonstrating that all decisions are made ethically and in the best interests of the sport.

While these discussions currently centre around English football, there is nothing to say that similar legislation couldn’t be applied to Scottish football too – or, indeed, any other sports.

Other industries have demonstrated the advantages of oversight from an independent regulator and, with sports clubs playing such an important role in the UK economy, the opportunity for providing long-term stability and increasing trust should be seen as a clear win.

View the full Scotsman article here.

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David Winnie
Partner, Corporate

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