It will stop shady oligarchs and brutal autocracies buying up clubs simply to whitewash their reputations. It will ensure financial stability and fair play between the teams. And it will protect local fans, many of whom have been standing on windswept terraces for years, from seeing their teams turned into mere units of anonymous global corporations. In the wake of the Super League fiasco, and the sanctioning of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, it is not hard to understand why the government has today announced the creation of an Independent Football Regulator with sweeping power to oversee the national game. But hold on. Like all regulators, while it is no doubt well intended, it will have unforeseen consequences. This plan risks destroying one of the UK’s few booming global industries.
Boris Johnson’s government has shifted so far in favour of state control, intervention, and busy-body rule-making that a regulatory body for football was probably only a matter of time. There are, of course, some issues that need addressing. Abramovich should not have been allowed to control Chelsea for so long, and the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle was a disgrace that should have been blocked. As for the Super League, it was a poorly thought through plan that collapsed on the first contact with reality.
But a regulator for the game is a step too far. Why? Because it will destroy the qualities that make the English Premier League so successful. First, it will inevitably be dominated by the interests of hardcore fans, who, like all fans, are among the most conservative, change-resistant, people on the planet. If it was up to them, it would probably still be impossible to have foreign players.
Next, it will inevitably be swayed by political considerations. Can you take over Wolverhampton or Watford? If it is a marginal seat, then forget it. Finally, it will be too cautious. The safe option for a regulator is always to say no to any idea. That way no one can get blamed if it goes wrong. And yet the League has thrived precisely because it is so open, competitive and innovative – and regulators will only clamp down on that.
The UK’s Premier League has turned into a formidable export machine. It generates billions in revenues for the country. It is one of the world’s leading forms of entertainment, a slightly muddier version of Hollywood, and it puts what would otherwise be obscure towns like Leicester or Burnley on the global map. That does more for levelling up than any minister ever will. It has achieved that because it has been dynamic and embraced change. A regulator will stifle that, because that is what regulators always do. And the UK risks losing one of its few fast growing world beating industries.
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