The Premier League is considering adding a human rights component to the test of its owners and directors as it conducts a review of the controversial settlement.
The review is part of a broad reassessment of league governance and comes as pressure increases again to broaden the criteria for assessing potential owners.
League officials were keen to downplay the review, suggesting it was normal practice and consideration of human rights was one of many factors looked at. Any changes will need to be approved by at least 14 of the 20 clubs in the league. However, the league recognizes that it needs owners who profit from competition during a time of heightened scrutiny from the public and politicians.
On Wednesday, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer called for sanctions against Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich after Russia invaded Ukraine. Abramovich, who put Chelsea up for sale, has vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Vladimir Putin and Russia or that he did anything to deserve punishment.
Salford City co-owner and football reform campaigner Gary Neville, who joined Labor in January, said the situation involving Abramovich showed the need for a tougher test for owners.
“Do I think [Abramovich] should be kicked out of English football? I’m not there yet, but I think we need a strong test of owner suitability and suitability,” he told the FT Business of Football Summit. “It needs to be more robust and resilient. We also need more transparency.
Last year, the takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund sparked protests from supporters and human rights groups and government-led scrutiny by fans, led by MP Tracey Crouch, called for improved testing of owners and administrators when it was released in November. A condition proposed by Crouch would assess a candidate’s integrity, or whether “the proposed owner is of good character such that he should be permitted to be the custodian of significant community property”.
The fan-led review has been well received by the government and it is still expected that a bill to turn its recommendations into law, including the creation of an independent regulator for gambling, will do part of the Queen’s Speech later this year. The Premier League remains in regular discussions with the government over possible legislation.
The league has held two meetings with Amnesty International in recent months to discuss Amnesty’s suggestion of a fully human rights-compliant landlord test. Amnesty’s test called, among other things, for the Premier League board to consider whether a prospective owner or manager had been complicit in serious breaches of international human rights law or any conduct contrary to the league anti-discrimination policy.