Regulation by the Football Authorities
3.4.1 The FA
The FA are the governing body for English football – all clubs, no matter what level they play in, from the Premiership to Sunday morning football, must be registered with the FA, and all players must be registered with their teams. Any team not registered with the FA can’t play in a league, so although the FA isn’t responsible for the leagues in which teams play (and so isn’t involved in so much depth in a club’s affairs as the relevant league), they are a crucial part of the regulatory framework.
Lower level football is administered by the County FAs – volunteer-run bodies who administer football in each county. They will deal with punishments, suspensions and other disciplinary matters. Each County FA has one Councillor on the FA’s Governing Council – the supreme governing body of the organisation.
Day-to-day governance at the FA is covered by the FA Main Board. The FA's board is the highest decision making authority of The Football Association, and is made up of twelve representatives, six from the professional game - four elected by the Premier League, two by the Football League, and six from the National Game - two elected at The FA's Summer meeting and the remaining four elected by members of the council not representing The Premier League or Football League. The FA's Chairman and Chief Executive are also members of the board.
The FA’s main sanction over a club is to withdraw registration from the club and so render it ineligible to compete in any competition. It can also suspend players, officials and directors from involvement in the game for a set period, though the power is rarely used in the case of directors.
The FA also licenses leagues, and whilst leagues are responsible for their own activities, the FA retains the power to remove recognition of a league. Leagues below the Professional Leagues are managed by the National Game Board, whilst the Professional Game Board does likewise for the Premiership and the Football League.
Affairs that relate to competitions not run by the FA tend to be dealt with by the appropriate body in the first instance – for example, the relevant league tends to deal with matters first. However, the FA does have a wider remit with regard to finances.
The Financial Advisory Unit (FAU) is a relatively new development by the FA. It has a rolling programme of visits to all clubs in the top 6 tiers of football – i.e. from the Premiership to the first level below the Conference. It will be assessing whether the governance structures at football clubs are sound and whether their financial procedures are adequate. The FAU won’t have the power to compel changes – but it will make recommendations in the form of a consultancy report to the directors of clubs. However, if the FAU finds irregularities, further investigations can be made by the FA’s Compliance Unit, and if there is a case to answer, charges against individuals can be brought, and clubs can be collectively punished by a fine and/or points deduction.
The Football Association can be contacted at: The FA, Wembley Stadium, PO Box 1966, London, SW1P 0EQ. Tel: 0844 980 8200. Or see http://www.thefa.com
3.4.2 The Leagues
The main day-to-day focus of a club is the League programme, and so the major regulatory body for most club affairs is the relevant League.
The Premiership is governed by the 20 member clubs who each have one vote – 14 votes are needed to pass any policy or rules change.
The Football League
The League is governed by its 72 member clubs and its AGM, but interim matters are dealt with by the League Board, which has three representatives from the First Division, two from the Second Division and one from the Third Division, plus an independent Chair.
Both Leagues have similar sets of regulations on many matters, but they obviously vary in crucial areas. This isn’t the place to go into detail on those regulations, but Supporters Direct have copies of each league’s rules, so get in touch if you have a detailed query.
These regulations basically cover most aspects of a club’s existence, such as:
- Player registrations and transfers
- Ground criteria and ground moves
- Dual interests and ownership
- Distribution of TV and other revenue
- Ticketing and away supporters
The FA Premier League, 30 Gloucester Place, London, W1V 8PL. Telephone 020 7864 9000, Fax 020 7864 9001, Email email@example.com Or see http://www.premierleague.com
The Football League, 30 Gloucester Place, London, W1V 8PL. Telephone 0844 463 1888, Fax 0844 826 5188. email firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.football-league.co.uk
Leagues below the professional game have similar functions. They too are owned by their member clubs in most cases, and have similar sets of regulations. Those specific regulations naturally differ, but they tend to cover the same areas.
The Football Conference can be contacted at: Third Floor, Wellington House, 31-34 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5TJ. Telephone 0121 214 1950. You can also visit their website at http://www.footballconference.co.uk
3.4.3 The Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO)
The IFO has beene sablished by the English Football Authorities (The Football Association, The Premier League and The Football League) with the agreement of the Government. The IFO has a clear remit to receive and adjudicate on complaints which have not been resolved at an earlier stage and will act as the final stage in football's complaints procedure. The IFO is the successor body to the Independetn Football Commission (IFC), which operated from 2002 to 2008 as an integral part of football's self-regulatory system.
The IFO has also been given some other responsibilities. The IFO can suggest subjects for research and enquiry; it will be consulted on regulation changes; and it may identify wider policy issues arising from complaints it has adjudicated. In announcing the creation of the IFO, the Football Authorities confirmed that they were "committed to the highest standards of self-regulation" and that "the creation of an Ombudsman would maintain a position as the independent and final arbiter of football complaints."
You can contact the IFO at The Independent Football Ombudsman, Suite 49, 57 Great George Street, Leeds, LS1 3AJ. Telephone 0800 588 4066 or email email@example.com. You can also check out their website at http://www.theifo.co.uk
The IFO is the successor of the Independent Football Commission. You can view and download a number of archived IFC documents at http://theifc.co.uk
3.4.4 Sport England
Sport England aren’t specifically responsible for football matters, but they do have powers to object to sports grounds being turned into non-sporting facilities. Whilst the law was framed mainly to help stop the sale of school and other community pitches, the fact that a field is used for professional sport is irrelevant to the legal definition of a playing field, which solely relates to:
- The size of a field - a football pitch is big enough to be considered
- Whether or not sport is played on a field
- Whether or not sport been played on the field within the last five years.
If all the above conditions are met, Sport England can object to sports grounds being turned into non-sporting facilities on the ground that the Town and Country Planning Act 1996 (and crucially, the Planning Guidance Note PPG 17) gives them the power to be a statutory objector. Sport England have said that they will only approve of plans to change the status of sports grounds that provide for replacement facilities of a comparable quality and accessibility in the nearby area.
Should a council give permission for a sports ground to be sold or turned into a non-sporting facility with Sport England still objecting, the application is automatically forwarded to the relevant regional Government Office, where the application is called in for examination by the Secretary of State, and sent to a Public Inquiry.
For the Planning guidance - used by councils to assess whether the permission sought is within the national planning framework - see: http://www.communities.gov.uk/corporate/about/whatwedo/planningandbuilding
For Sport England's policy: http://www.sportengland.org/about_us/what_we_do.aspx
For more information on planning decisions that may be of use to cite as precedents, see the Sports Appeals database: http://www.sportengland.org/facilities__planning/planning_tools_and_guidance/sports_appeal.aspx
3.4.5 Regulation in Scotland
Football in Scotland is governed by three separate organisations, each of whom have separate areas of responsibility. We will take these in turn, and at the end of this section provide an overview of the issues of having three regulatory bodies within such a small country.
Scottish Football Association (SFA)
The SFA Corporate Plan published in April 2002 states their strategic mission “is to promote, foster and develop football at all levels.” Within this there are four strategic objectives, namely:
- Supporting Football Networks
- Modernising Regulation
- Encouraging Participation
- Building International Profile
As far as the regulatory objective is concerned, the SFA have identified four main areas they wish to modernise:
- Club Licensing
- National Player Registration
- New Technology
While issues such as player registration and refereeing standards will be of some interest to the average fan, the area of most interest to Supporters’ Trusts is that of club licensing.
The SFA is a member association of UEFA, and therefore is duty bound to implement strategies that are decided at the European as well as the domestic level. In regard to club licensing, the SFA have gone one stage further and will assist in piloting a scheme that aims to bring uniformity to regulations throughout Europe. However, each national association will be allowed to tweak the regulations to suit local conditions. This illustrates the difficulties in trying to implement one strategy on a pan-European basis.
Club licensing is intended to set minimum standards for stadia, financial reporting and coaching, and to include codes of best practice. Overall the SFA want to have a progressive approach to raising these standards, therefore initially the requirements are fairly basic, but over time they will become more rigorous. These standards are intended to gently nudge clubs into introducing modern financial practices, thereby addressing their financial stability.
Therefore, from a regulatory perspective, Supporters’ Trusts know the SFA will have a significant say in the viability of their club. In order for a club to remain an SFA member they will have to comply with these regulations. Only time will tell if this scheme manages to achieve its lofty aims, but at the very least the SFA are taking a more proactive role. The SFA are attempting to create a framework whereby clubs can prosper, and remedial action at failing clubs will be able to start much sooner than at present.
It should of course also be noted that the SFA’s role extends well beyond the boundary of the 42 Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League clubs. They also have ultimate responsibility for the rest of senior and junior non-league football, and the youth game - although many of the day-to-day tasks of running leagues for these levels of football are devolved to other affiliated associations.
Scottish Premier League (SPL)
The SPL’s role in Scottish Football is simply to organise and run a league. They are given this authority by the SFA, and this confers the ability to decide the rules of the competition and the criteria for entry to the league. There is currently an arrangement whereby the winners of Scottish Football League’s Division 1 are allowed entry to the SPL as long as they meet certain standards, which were agreed at the formation of the SPL in 1998.
Recently these criteria have come under severe scrutiny as various teams have come close to winning Division 1 but realised that they would not be promoted in the event of a championship win. In particular the SPL requires that member clubs should have 10,000 all-seated, all-covered stadia; that they should have some form of pitch protection; and that they have sole use of the playing facilities.
Therefore while the SFA has an overarching regulatory role, the SPL criteria have an equally strong effect on the policies of individual clubs. Each member club has one vote in the process of deciding SPL rules and policies.
It is also worth noting that within the SFA’s proposed club licensing regulations, there is agreement with the rules and policies as laid down by both the SPL and the SFL. Therefore it could be argued that in certain areas the leagues decide the policy and the SFA merely rubber-stamps these decisions.
Scottish Football League (SFL)
The regulatory role of the SFL is similar to that of the SPL in that they have the authority to organise club competitions. The SFL currently provide three leagues and organise the League Cup competition.
Promotion and relegation is available between the three divisions, although no club can be relegated out of the SFL Division 3. Therefore there is no mechanism for growing clubs to gain entry to the SFL unless through expansion of the leagues, or through replacement of a liquidated club. Equally, a false bottom is put on the league by the lack of relegation for unsuccessful clubs.
The SFL and SPL agreed at the formation of the SPL to allow the winners of SFL Division 1 to be promoted to the SPL at the expense of the bottom club in the SPL, but only if they were to meet the criteria laid down by the SPL. The SPL also pays a sum of money to the SFL every year to compensate them for the loss of the top clubs in 1998.
In terms of regulation the SFL, like the SPL, takes a hands-off attitude to the internal affairs of individual clubs. Despite the fact that strong leagues are reliant on each club being solvent and sustainable, there is a reticence on the part of the leagues to take a stronger line, especially in terms of financial stability.
Complaints and Queries
Unlike England, Scotland does not have an independent body that can investigate complaints against individual clubs, leagues or associations. Therefore the first point of contact for problems is to discuss them with the club concerned.
However, too few clubs have a well-developed complaints procedure, and neither is there an across-the-board standard on customer service. This ultimately leads to a great deal of supporter dissatisfaction, which has no official channel to be heard.
If the individual club do not act on a complaint it is very difficult to force them into action. A Supporters’ Trust can help to bring more moral pressure to bear on the issue, but there needs to be a willingness within both parties to communicate.
Realistically fans could take a complaint further and speak to the governing league or ultimately the SFA. However, unless there has been a breach of their rules it is unlikely they will get involved in a domestic matter.
The regulatory framework within Scottish football is relatively straightforward with the SFA sanctioning football games within Scotland. The SPL and SFL work independently of the SFA and devise rules and policies that they feel best fit their objectives, so long as they are within the rules of the game.
The picture is complicated by different tournaments being governed by different authorities, and because league clubs will have a membership of either the SPL or SFL and the SFA. This therefore may lead these organisations to pursue different objectives due to the different balance of members.
With no independent regulatory or complaints organisation, it falls to individual clubs to manage their own affairs with only minimal intervention from the three governing bodies. This also makes a joined-up complaints procedure almost impossible.
The one major change taking place is the introduction of UEFA instigated club licensing. This set of regulations will be the first time that measurable criteria will have been used to judge individual club performance.