Monday 10 September 2012
With the Premier League's evolution into a multi-billion pound entity, the rules of the League have needed to remain in step with the ever-changing nature of the world's most popular football competition.
The 2012/13 Premier League handbook is the result of a painstaking project undertaken by the Premier League's Director of Governance Jane Purdon to reflect better the brave new world it governs.
From corporate governance to third kits, player transfers to supporter liaison officers, everything you needed to know about the competition’s rules and regulations but were afraid to ask is available in a new re-ordered and more accessible format.
Q: Tell us about the Premier League's rules and who writes them?
Jane Purdon: The rules are the bible for the Premier League. They cover every aspect of how clubs operate, from the hard-wiring in their stadium through child protection, through transfers of players, through club finances; the lot.
All Premier League rules are only binding once they are approved by Premier League clubs: we need 14 out of 20 of the clubs to approve a rule change.
"The Premier League is a good example of how self-regulation can work, because the rules address the challenges we face as an organisation and an industry"
So the clubs write their own rules: in essence it is a contract for how they wish to behave towards one another. It's self-regulation, and the Premier League is a good example of how self-regulation can work, because the rules address the challenges we face as an organisation and an industry, while being able to be introduced in a timely and appropriate manner.
Q: How does that work then?
JP: Consultation, debate and deliberation. The clubs are more aware than most of the issues that have to be dealt with as they of course are absolutely at the forefront dealing with these issues every day. They know that supporters, the media and sometimes even politicians rightly look at and question how they conduct their business.
So the discussions at the Shareholders' Meetings – the regular meetings we have with club chairmen and chief executives and our key decision-making forum – are informed and well thought-out. The fact we have introduced so many new rules in so many critical areas is a credit to the forward-thinking nature of the clubs. They recognise the need for a strong rulebook that they can buy into – that's what makes the Premier League’s self-regulatory model work.
Q: What is your role in all of this?
JP: My job is to draft rules that are effective and fit for purpose – so that every rule is clear, tight and delivers its meaning. It’s more complicated than that because we go to the clubs with recommendations, proposals and suggestions and the final version of a rule is the result of much consultation and consideration by clubs.
For example, a few years ago we decided that the Owners' and Directors' Test needed strengthening. We introduced further requirements that would prohibit an individual from becoming a club owner or director, such as criminal convictions for a wide range of offences, a ban by a sporting or professional body, and a breach of certain key football regulations (e.g. those against match-fixing).
We also made sure that the test applied to prospective directors, who had to undergo it before they could become involved in a club. There is now a very broad range of matters in an individual's background which can prevent them being involved in a club. Given the world has moved on, it was right to strengthen the test in this way.
"The fact we have introduced so many new rules in so many critical areas is a credit to the forward thinking nature of the clubs"
Q: What do you mean when you say that the world has moved on?
JP: The turnover of Premier League clubs through all sources of income – central League revenue and the clubs' own income streams – totals several billion pounds a year. That's from one football competition of 20 clubs. In addition there is massive interest in it all across the world. When the finances and supporter interest become this sizeable, you need the corporate governance to match. So, what was appropriate in 1992 in terms of, for example, who can run clubs, and the scrutiny we give to the money and the people, is no longer appropriate today.
We've got to be on our mettle to meet the challenges success brings and have structures in place to deal with issues when things don't always go right, as sometimes happens in football. The Premier League executive team, as well as the clubs, are committed to ensuring we continue to do this, and we constantly keep these issues under review and never think our work in this field is done.
Q: So the Premier League has to protect clubs from the wrong sort of owner?
JP: We operate in an economy that encourages inward investment, risk-taking and different models of operating a company. However, football’s nature is different to most businesses – given its heritage, tradition, links with local communities and the strong bond with supporters – and so we felt it was important that we scrutinise owners and their business plans.
We also check whether the owners have the means to acquire the club and what plans they have to sustain the club going forward. As I have said before, every owner has to go through the Owners' and Directors' Test to ensure that they have no judicial or regulatory infringements on their record.
Q: So what was behind your decision to conduct a review of the handbook?
JP: The rules have grown by evolution and the rulebook we have now is four times the size of how it started out in 1992. Last season we sat down and read the whole thing through to see whether it still made sense, whether it still flowed logically and whether there was anything that needed to be taken out because it’s time-served. Some of it was taken out, but surprisingly little. We read every single rule – and there are nearly 1,000 – and asked ourselves whether each one was still relevant and the answer in most cases was: Yes.
Q: So what was changed?
JP: The format needed addressing, so the entire rulebook has been re-ordered to create a logical flow and iron out any anomalies where things just didn't sit together comfortably. For example, the old section on finance set out the distribution formula for central broadcast revenues: this is the one of the key elements of the "contract" between all the clubs. However, it also set out all the provisions relating to scrutiny of clubs' accounts and business plans by the Premier League.
These rules are so important that we thought they needed to be highlighted in a separate section, one which sat alongside the other key provisions concerning club corporate governance. The rules need to be accessible, logical and understandable, not just for the clubs, but also for the increasing number of external parties – e.g. supporters, the media and politicians– who take an interest in how we run our affairs.
"The rulebook we have now is four times the size of how it started out in 1992"
Q: So how is it structured now?
JP: There are only six main headings: The League: Governance, Operation and Finance; Clubs Finance and Governance (that’s all the corporate governance about how we expect them to run themselves); Clubs Operations (e.g. fixtures, stadia, kits); Players: Contracts, Registrations and Transfers; Disciplinary and the Resolution of Disputes; and Youth Development. That's how we wanted it – simpler, better organised and more accessible.
Q: What is the major difference?
JP: The big change, the huge shift from 1992 to here, is Governance and the fact that we now have huge chunks of clubs' finance and governance to deal with – what disqualifies someone from being a director, how clubs need to report, and how we expect them to comply to a high standard of transparency.
The ordering before involved a lot of crossover and it didn't really make sense logically any more. It didn't read through coherently.
If, for example, a club director wanted to know what his/her duties and responsibilities to the Premier League and its rules were, there was a section called "Directors and Directors reports" but they actually had to also read bits of other sections which were relevant. So we've brought all that together. There's also a Destination Table, which is a very useful tool for showing you exactly which section the old rules have been relocated to.
What new rules have come in this year?
JP: Probably the most important introduction is the new rules concerning youth development, which give effect to the Elite Player Performance Plan. Developing the EPPP was an enormous piece of work, undertaken over two years by clubs and Premier League staff. The EPPP builds on the pre-existing youth development programme but is absolutely clear in its ambition to take youth development to the next level.
My job has been to turn the EPPP into clear and effective rules so that clubs know exactly what's expected of them and young players and their parents know exactly what they are entitled to.
We also introduced a requirement for every club to carry out supporter liaison, for example by appointing a dedicated supporter liaison officer. A number of our clubs were already using supporter liaison officers to good effect and we thought it was a good idea.
Q: So the 2012/13 handbook has been an exercise in rendering the existing rules more accessible
JP: What we have done is overseen an important change in the presentation and the running order of the handbook. The Premier League Rule Book has served the competition well, but is constantly evolving to reflect changing practices and meet new challenges.
It is therefore of critical importance that the rules, as well as being relevant, are easily understood and available. The Premier League operates in a world where it is set high standards and publicly held to account – our rulebook reflects our understanding and appreciation of that fact.