The UK Government has tasked strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman with the design of a new independent regulator for English football. The firm will help the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to form a response to a recent review of the national sport.
The global phenomenon that is modern football is almost unrecognizable from the sport’s humble beginnings. Having been exported to every corner of the world by the British working class, the beautiful game has become increasingly corporatized over the last century, as capital came to realise it had immense promise as a business arena.
The immense wealth that the top level of football has been exposed to has also had a notable impact on how it functions as a ‘meritocracy.’ With billionaire owners treating football clubs as expensive play-things, opportunities to leverage huge amounts of debt for private equity funds, or as a means to clean up ugly public reputations, football ownership has long been a bone of contention among fans and politicians alike.
The situation reached fever pitch earlier in 2021, however, with the shock announcement that Europe’s wealthiest teams intended to form a breakaway tournament to rival Uefa’s Champions League. At the same time, a widely criticized takeover of Newcastle United reopened debates over who is a ‘fit and proper’ owner of a community’s football club – with the game’s leaders having previously turned blind eyes to the motives of similar buyouts at Manchester City and Chelsea .
Over the last year, these pressures have seen former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch oversee a fan-led review of English football, taking into account the concerns of grassroots players, personnel and general lovers of the beautiful game. One of the most important conclusions the report reached was that to help protect football’s integrity and financial interests, the game needed an independent regulator in England.
This drew some peculiar takes from a number of Premier League owners – perhaps most notoriously, Leeds CEO Angus Kinnear compared regulating English football to ‘Maoism’ while attempting to draw a line between the proposals and the Chinese famine. At the same time, the Football Association – the governing body of football in England – recently rejected suggestions that it was opposed to the idea of an independent regulator, but argued that it should be housed as a unit within the game’s governing body – something critics point out might somewhat compromise its independence.
But despite the protestations of the game’s financial elite, the Government is exploring how to implement Crouch’s recommendations. With a major shake-up of club ownership on the cards – especially in the wake of sanctions being leveled at Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich over ties to Russia’s government, following the invasion of Ukraine – ministers have indicated that the government will formally respond to the review during the spring.
According to Sky News, this has seen the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) hire Oliver Wyman to work on aspects of Whitehall’s response to the review of football’s governance. It is thought this will see the strategy firm help design a new independent body that will be charged with regulating English football.
Reports in the British press note that the DCMS has confirmed Oliver Wyman’s appointment, but “declined to comment further.” Meanwhile, it is unclear what the value of the contract awarded to Oliver Wyman is.
Last year, consultancy Campbell Tickell also published a report into football regulation. According to the firm, the example set by English regulators could lead to improvements across the global game.