It’s time for football to be regulated properly

By | January 20, 2010

I was looking through the football results at home last weekend and found yet more reference to the shocking number of European countries that now look to be involved in football match-fixing.

While the UK is not implicated, it did make me think that this should be a wake-up call to look at how the billion pound activities of sport are regulated and dealt with by the courts.

Historically the UK’s legal system has treated the sporting world as more of an ‘old boys club’ than an industry with investment from fans, banks and corporate sponsors. I remember when the Premier League was set up in the early 1990s.

At that time the Football League sought a judicial review of the Football Association’s decision because it thought it was going to lose out by the best clubs being hived off into a different organisation.  The Football Association who set up the Premier League wanted to act so quickly that they appeared to be in breach of their own rules as to how much notice should be given.  The Football League hoped it could slow the process down.  Unfortunately, the courts, rather than deciding the case on its merits, felt that the Football Association was not a public body and thus its decisions were not susceptible to judicial review – and that remains the case in England despite the courts in Scotland coming to exactly the opposite conclusion.

The implication of this decision was profound.  Anyone with a complaint about the governing body of a sport will have to find a private law action – such as breach of contract or restraint of trade – when trying to get its decisions looked at by the courts.  This is at odds with city regulators and other ‘overseeing’ bodies in other industries which are largely reviewable. The ‘magic’ of judicial review is not necessarily the end result, but the immediacy and transparency of the process.

It also seems to me that the British obsession with football has extended to funding of clubs.  A great many football clubs are at the end of their useful lives and if they were treated as a business, they would be wound up.  Yet they continue to be funded.  Contrast that to the lack of tolerance given to, say, a manufacturing company in the current recession.  A lot of loyalty may attach to many of the decrepit old football grounds and clubs – but that is often the case with old local businesses as well, but they don’t get the same generous treatment whether from the banks or HMRC.

About Chris Gale

Chris graduated from University College Cardiff in 1977 and qualified as a solicitor in 1980. He moved to academia in 1990 with an appointment at the Polytechnic of North London and joined Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Law School) in 1994, becoming head of undergraduate studies and being responsible for profiling, timetabling and staff development across the School. He joined Bradford University Law School as the inaugural Director of Legal Studies in July 2005.

Specialties: Human rights, Sport and the Law, Public Confidence in the Legal System