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Could football be getting a new referee?

two football players chase the ball

As Bill Shankly once said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. Indeed, football clubs hold a unique importance to fans, particularly when they provide cultural identity as well commercial and employment opportunities to their local communities.

As the list of football clubs suffering at the hands of unscrupulous owners and poor governance continues to grow, (see Bury FC and Macclesfield Town as prime examples), the Government is proposing to legislate to protect the financial stability of the beautiful game. The landmark ‘Football Governance Bill’, progressing through parliament, follows on from the Fan Lead Review of Football Governance report and the Government’s White Paper A Sustainable Future Reforming Club Governance.

As part of its intended measures to protect the financial stability of professional men’s football in England and Wales, the Government seeks to create a new Independent Football Regulator which will focus on clubs’ financial resources, the suitability of owners, fan interests and participation in approved competitions.

Where does whistleblowing come in?

The Government’s White Paper stated that the new regulator may identify corporate governance issues through “information from whistleblowers”. As the paper rightly pointed out, those on the inside are more likely to know of breaches of financial regulation, intentions to join a breakaway league or plans to change the club colours much earlier than the fans and wider society.

So, if a football regulator is created, those working at clubs need to be able to approach the regulator and feel safe in doing so. This is why any new football regulator must seek to become a Prescribed Person under whistleblowing law.

What is a prescribed person?

Regulators, professional bodies or individuals approved by the Government to receive whistleblowing concerns from their respective sectors or about particular issues. Many regulators hold prescribed status, the full list of which you can see here. For example, the Charity Commission and Financial Conduct Authority are prescribed for their respective sectors, HMRC for taxation matters and the Health and Safety Executive for the health and safety of persons at work.

Why is being prescribed important?

Prescribed persons provide workers with a mechanism to blow the whistle to an external independent body. Sometimes a whistleblower doesn’t feel able to talk directly to their employer, perhaps due to fear of being victimised, or needs a route to escalate their concern if they feel they’ve been ignored, or no action has been taken. Prescribed persons therefore play a significant role in the whistleblowing process.

Having a Prescribed Person to go to provides whistleblowers with a safer alternative to making a ‘wider’ disclosure e.g. to the media, as there are fewer legal criteria to satisfy to qualify for legal protection under whistleblowing law, should you be victimised for raising a concern. Additionally, non-prescribed bodies – such as The Gambling Commission, Office for Product Safety and Standards, and Maritime and Coastguard Agency – are less transparent than their prescribed counterparts, which can create confusion when approaching them and uncertainty over whether whistleblowing concerns are welcome and able to be acted upon.

The benefits of being prescribed

Whistleblowers provide an important source of information and intelligence to Prescribed Persons which aids them in their work, giving them greater understanding of the sector or issue they regulate.

Being prescribed also provides an opportunity for regulators to drive up standards by pro-actively setting whistleblowing standards for the entities they oversee. This improves the landscape to encourage people to raise their concerns internally through an employer’s own whistleblowing channels – stopping harm before it becomes a matter for the regulator.

How we can help

Protect has a wealth of experience conducting training and consultancy work for Prescribed Persons. We run bespoke training on the role and responsibilities of Prescribed Persons, and the legal framework that surround them. If you are a Prescribed Person and are seeking consultancy or training on your role in the UK’s whistleblowing framework, please contact our Business Support team.

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