Sir Keir Starmer has called on the government to introduce legislation to block English clubs’ involvement in the European Super League, and even prise ownership from the current “Big Six” hierarchies so they have less control, stating there would be cross-party support.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, to be published in full on Tuesday, the Labour Party leader said “there’s no excuse for not doing something given the level of support”, and what he described as “a wall of opposition” across society.
Sir Keir said that the government and football authorities have failed the sport through their laissez-faire approach to the game, and that a restructuring of club ownership would be central to Labour’s policy on the sport.
“My first stance is that it’s really for the Premier League and Uefa to try and sort this out with the clubs,” the opposition leader said. “But, if not, I’m really detecting now a willingness among politicians to legislate if that is necessary. It’s not an area where you’d expect legislation, but the strength of feeling is such that if the government is prepared to bring forward legislation, we would certainly look at it and support it.
“I think we’ve been on a slippery slope. I’m afraid the Premier League, Uefa, and the government have to take some responsibility for that. That is all contributing to this being a watershed moment, and it needs to be a watershed moment in the positive sense, that fans and others rise up against it to stop it.”
With much of the internal and external criticism of the super league centring on the intentions of the American owners of the big clubs - especially Manchester United and Liverpool - The Independent has been told that football figures lower down the league have broached the idea of using existing legal mechanisms to force compulsory purchases of the clubs, since the plan for a super league could be seen as not being in the best interests of British business.
When Sir Keir was asked whether this was the kind of legislation he has called for, or whether it would be a Labour approach, he said: “I think that controls of the ownership, the scale of the ownership, the size of the ownership, and also a much greater say for fans in the future of their clubs.
“I think it might have to be [prising control], or at least limiting the extent of the ownership stake, and also dealing with the speculation element of it. Foreign speculation almost brought down Wigan Athletic, a great club, a historic club, very important to Wigan itself, and so we’ve got to tackle the ownership question.
“I would be open to different models, and would look at any models that the government puts forward but if it has to be legislation then it has to be legislation.
“The government is talking a good game, it has the power to bring forward legislation, and it now knows the other parties would almost certainly support it so the government has within its power to do something. The question is whether it will do that.
“They’ve got a majority, they’ve got support from other parties including ours, if they need to do something, there’s no excuse for not doing something, given the level of support.”
Sir Keir reflected a sense of betrayal that has been felt within the game.
“I think all fans would say at the very moment we came together as a nation through the pandemic, we wanted the football family to come together, and the idea of a cartel breaking away at this point is contrary to the whole spirit of the pandemic.”