How the 2017 General Election could affect the way sport is run - from fans on boards to safe standing

 
Simon Leaf
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Jeremy Corbyn football
Saving grace? Labour has the most to say when it comes to sport (Source: Getty)

As the punishing football, rugby and now election seasons draw to a climax, sports-related policies feature in all the campaigns.

Labour undoubtedly has the most to say when it comes to sport. In particular, the party has repeated many of its 2015 manifesto pledges by focusing on putting in place stricter controls on how sports clubs, leagues and event organisers operate.

In particular, the party has repeated many of its 2015 manifesto pledges by focusing on putting in place stricter controls on how sports clubs, leagues and event organisers operate.

A Labour government, for example, would “give football supporters the opportunity to have a greater say in how their clubs are run” by legislating for supporters’ trusts to appoint at least two directors to a club’s board and allow each trust to purchase shares if the club is sold.

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However, the typical club ownership structures don’t easily lend themselves to this type of collective ownership and any requirement on private companies to cede ownership and control would be an unprecedented step in a sporting and business context. It would also present substantial legal hurdles to implement.

Another Labour commitment is to force the Premier League to divert at least 5% of its broadcast revenues into the grassroots game. Again, this has not been without controversy. Not only is the Premier League adamant that it already meets this self-imposed target, the likely losers of any additional enforced investment could be HMRC and ordinary fans; HMRC may suffer lower tax receipts (from a decline in wages) and ordinary fans may face higher ticket prices (to compensate the clubs for the lost revenues). Yet given the financial difficulties that several clubs face and the importance of sports in promoting healthy lifestyles, many feel that the principle that those with the most should do more is sound.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, devote far less of their manifesto to sport. In fact there are only two direct references in the 88-page document; one to a previous commitment to “double support for sports in primary schools”, the other, a pledge to “support a UK city in a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games”.

Despite the lack of sporting focus, in reality, a Conservative government is likely to have a marked impact on professional sport. The Tories have touted a ‘hard’ Brexit with stronger controls on immigration. As a result, the number of international sports professionals plying their trade in the UK is likely to fall. Some argue this would diminish the quality of professional sport, others that this presents greater opportunities for domestic talent.

The Liberal Democrats pick up on the Brexit theme by recognising that sports organisations have been “put at risk” by the 2016 referendum. Consequently, they promise to protect “sports funding via the National Lottery”. Football clubs and fans may also be interested to see support for safe standing – a controversial area in terms of safety and legal liability but one that may ultimately lead to lower ticket prices and an enhanced fan experience.

Ultimately voters will decide which team has the winning policies. Like many other election issues, the prospect of Brexit may overshadow and therefore have more of an impact on the vital sports industry than any specific manifesto pledge.

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