At a hearing at the European Parliament on Tuesday, September 4th, FIFPro, Fifa, the Premier League, European Commission, ECA and SD Europe discussed the growing gap between the big and small football clubs across Europe.
Under the banner, Towards a Fair Football Competition in Europe, MEPs Paul Tang, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells and Bogdan Wenta hosted a panel discussion focusing on how European institutions can help to improve the competitive balance in European football.
Fifa talked the audience through the current developments around the reform of the transfer system, which involves the World League Forum, ECA, FIFPro and Uefa. It wasn’t possible to explain the finer detail, as the discussions are still ongoing, but SD Europe questioned whether there has been proper consultation with small and medium-sized clubs on the matter. “Where are the interests of these clubs actually represented in these discussions?” Antonia Hagemann, SD Europe’s CEO asked.
Solidarity and redistribution within and between competitions was discussed next. Though solidarity principles were agreed as being important and in need of being maintained, SD Europe stressed that the solidarity measures still need to be defined adequately. “Without them the diversity of football will die, its social impact will die and businesses will collapse,” Antonia said.
The SD Europe CEO highlighted some of the problems that supporters, as European citizens, are faced with across the continent: the insolvency of Lierse SK, a 112-year-old professional football club in Belgium and the subsequent rise of K.Lyra-Lierse, with the involvement of local supporters, as well as the near-collapse of Real Club Recreativo de Huelva, Spain’s oldest football club, saved by the actions of supporters. The examples gave the audience some insight into troubles away from the limelight of the elite clubs.
Antonia also explained how these events are actually part of a widespread pattern: a single company owner, insolvency, no club, lost community involvement, rescue plans, and supporters saving the day, only for a cyclical set of events to occur over and over again. A lack of properly structured monetary support for clubs from FAs and failure to monitor where investment goes inevitably ends in disaster!
The panel and audience went on to discuss the importance of competitive balance, and its complexity. There was general agreement that the problem needs to be tackled holistically. This is not something that can be fixed by the big clubs or by the authorities on their own, and it’s not just a matter of money to be shared.
Antonia said that letting money flow down the pyramid cannot be the only suggestion and, in fact, won’t do much good if all stakeholders don’t continue to improve the governance of the game. Clubs with poor management and or or owners will not avoid insolvencies in the future simply because they have been provided with additional resources and income. In addition, clubs that follow good governance standards can hardly succeed if the majority of clubs around them in their league play by a different rulebook. There needs to be financial and ownership regulation to improve stability and there is a need to share know-how and good practice between clubs of different sizes across Europe.
“We are worried that at some point this separation between the very big clubs and the rest will turn everything below the elite game upside down, with no preparation and a terrible impact for everyone involved: fans, players, clubs, leagues, local businesses and others,” Antonia said, adding that it is crucial for the smaller and medium-sized clubs and leagues to develop more sustainable structures to allow for stability and growth; hence, to prepare themselves for the time when the big clubs set up their own competitions and/or leagues.
Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, Secretary General FIFPro division Europe, pointed out that financial instability in big parts of the game causes problems for players who, in many cases, suffer from late or no payment at all from their employers. He agreed with SD Europe that small and medium-sized clubs require more support and better regulatory oversight as they are an integral part of the football pyramid.
All participants agreed the discussion on the evening was important and that it needs to continue in order to identify solutions to a very apparent threat to European football.