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EDITORIAL

Pressure groups Many factions will take advantage of the political turmoil to reshape football – fans must ensure they are not left out

In grim times, the hustle for power within the Conservative party is at least providing some moments of light relief. Among the promised tax cuts and Brexit boosterism, the only leadership candidate to have mentioned the nation’s most popular sport in their manifesto is Penny Mordaunt, who used a clip of Wales celebrating World Cup qualification without asking permission. Some football-related metaphors may yet be risked in the debates and the Conservatives will of course promote whatever work they have done for football in the build-up to the next general election, expected to be in . While there is plenty that could be done, football supporters will need to maintain pressure for action, especially in areas where well-funded lobbyists will be working against them.

An illustration of how needed reforms might be blocked came at the end of June, when it emerged that there is resistance to plans to curb the influence of gambling firms. Some government MPs are reportedly concerned that proposals to limit the amounts that can be bet online would reduce the government’s tax revenues. And a ban on betting-related shirt sponsorship – due to begin in and strongly endorsed by football fan groups and betting campaigners – is now said to be subject to further discussion with an obstinate Premier League. Eight of its clubs currently have shirt sponsorships with betting firms, with of Premier League members being required to vote in favour of a voluntary change.

None of the “big six” have gambling tie-ins on their shirts but their machinations in another area may still present a huge problem for the continued health of domestic football. On July , the European Court of Justice (ECJ) began to hear a case brought by Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona. These three maintain that UEFA does not have the legal right to block the proposed European Super League (ESL). This was announced in April then scrapped three days later when the other nine clubs involved, including the six from England, withdrew their

A L A M Y

New Chelsea owner Todd Boehly, who may tip the balance in the European Super League ba le support in the face of widespread fan anger. It is expected that the ECJ may take as long as a year to rule on the three rebels’ main claim, that UEFA should not hold a commercial monopoly over international club competitions. Chelsea and Manchester City were said to have been only passive supporters of the original plan – unlike the other

If the ESL is revived via an international court, politicians here should support whatever moves are taken to stop it again but some might yet need to be unceremoniously reminded of that fact clubs, their owners saw football as a way to launder their image rather than maximise profits. But after a takeover facilitated by Boris Johnson’s government, Todd Boehly, the co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, now runs Chelsea. His attitude to his investment is likely to mirror that of compatriots at Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal which could be significant should ESL breakaway plans resurface.

Newcastle’s new owners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, are multiple times richer than their counterpart at Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. No one yet knows about their attitude towards breakaway leagues but the ESL plotters would surely see the value in wooing what is now the richest club in the world, especially one whose owners have some influential friends here too. The British government claimed that it did not interfere with a takeover that involved one of its closest international allies but it has been established that the Foreign Office held meetings with the Premier League to discuss the Newcastle deal. If the ESL is revived via an international court, politicians here should support whatever moves are taken to stop it again but some might yet need to be unceremoniously reminded of that fact.

At the opening of parliament in May, the government confirmed its commitment to appoint an independent regulator for football. This is one of several recommendations made by the fan-led review conducted in that should now become legislation – others include a strengthened owners’ test and a requirement that the Premier League distribute more of its income to the lower leagues. There is no timescale for these measures but if government departments are functioning again soon, it should be no later than the end of this year. With politicians on all sides likely to be scrapping around for votes, it could be a fruitful time for wellorganised campaigns who keep up the pressure. Fans’ groups need to work hard to make sure they are at the front of the queue.

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