Giving financial fair-play a fair chance

By Noy Shani  @NoyShani  @TLE_Sport

Sports policy and law have become increasingly popular in recent years.  Financial fair-play has been recognised as a major topic in the world of football.  Noy Shani investigates how can this be enforced, who is responsible for providing the solutions, what the role of academia is and what challenges exist for policy makers, politicians and researchers alike.

Football clubs and fans have become aware of the financial risks and constraints that have been implemented in recent years.  Corruption allegations in football are on the rise and integrity concerns over match fixing and doping continue to make top headlines.

Many of us know about the issues mentioned, but what is not necessarily clear is the best way of tackling these problems.  Who are the people responsible for resolving these matters that threaten the world of football and what innovative policies do they plan on implementing?

Sport policy, law, directors, fans, charities, and Academia alike, all have a role to play – however, they are rarely pulling in the same direction.

Marc Webber is a BBC reporter who writes for FC Business, a sports business magazine.  He claims that the most important things in sports policy and law are monetisation and financial fair-play (or FFP), the latter ultimately controlled by UEFA.

Football League clubs are more inventive in finding new ways and solutions to make money, says Marc.

“I think the Football League has been quite strict on FFP in terms of saying all clubs must adhere to it, because they are concerned clubs could go beyond their means.  That’s why I think sometimes the Football League clubs are being far more innovative in trying to raise revenue and trying new things to make money, than, perhaps some Premier League clubs that can sit back wait for the money to come in and not be as adventurous in trying new ideas to raise revenue,” he says.

Achieving real financial fair-play will be a difficult call admits Kevin Carpenter, a sports lawyer from law firm Hill Dickinson:

“It’s an extremely difficult thing to regulate.  UEFA are doing an admirable job of trying to achieve middle ground but it’s not going really to achieve what we want I am afraid with the European law as it is.  With this situation you are never going to achieve the financial controls that are required to bring football back in line with reality.”

So can research impact actual policy-making in sports?  How can it be translated and put into practice?  Recently the University of Birmingham launched its Sports Policy Centre in an attempt to address this void.  The centre tries to raise funds from various places, pull its experts together to create a platform for projects and partnerships between researchers, external practitioners and policy makers, so their research can have a real life impact.

I spoke to the Policy centre’s Verity Postlethwaite to learn more about the initiative and how they think it will impact the world of sports and football specifically.

According to Verity, the centre’s role is not necessarily to comment on what they think about these matters.

“So for example with FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, very controversial issues such as corruption or racism or anything like that, we are not there to comment on what has happened and give immediate advice.  We are there to offer longer term, medium term research that can offer them better strategies and give them better evidence to make better decisions.”

Even though the sports policy centre is lobbying to the Department of Culture, Media and Sports there seems to be a gap.  The government has not got a particular view about financial regulations and fair-play in football and its priorities tend to be sports participation for young people and women.

Verity claims that sometimes findings are not always what policy makers or politicians want to hear.

“If we give evidence that maybe an athlete, or a governing body, or a coach, or a government official won’t necessarily be able to use without making themselves look in a negative way it is difficult to persuade them to use it.  Everyone has their agenda so if our research does not translate to what they want to hear… will they use it?” she wonders.

This raises the question whether football clubs should be involved in policy making. Not if you ask Webber, who thinks the authorities are the ones who should be setting the tone.

“They do not need to and should not have to get involved in elongated political conversations or elongated conversations around the development of the governance of the game.  I think that a lot of that governance ownership has to come from the bodies.”

So are we back to square one then?  Or can establishments like the policy centre make a difference to financial fair play?  I’ll let you be the judge.

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