The Premier League has announced a tightening of its ownership rules, with individuals found to have committed human rights abuses or subject to UK government sanctions being banned from running a club.
The changes to the owners’ and directors’ test come into effect immediately and include a new “disqualifying event” for human rights abuses as determined by the UK’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations.
The Premier League has also added new criminal offences to its list of disqualifying events, such as violence, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and hate crimes.
The league now has the power to stop individuals under investigation for conduct that would result in a disqualifying event from becoming a director of a club.
While the move has been praised by human rights groups, some have expressed concerns that the rules could still be circumvented, and the league may still become a “sportswashing toy” if they are not implemented properly.
The new rules come at a time when the ownership of several Premier League clubs is under scrutiny, including Manchester United, which has received a bid from Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim.
Concerns have been raised about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers and its criminalization of homosexual acts.
However, Jassim reportedly believes the strengthened rules will not affect his offer to buy the club as he has made the bid as a private individual.
The Premier League’s previous handling of Newcastle United’s takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has also been called into question by Amnesty International, who called for a re-examination of the assurances the league received about the Saudi government’s control over the club.
While the new rules have been welcomed, some have criticized them as insufficient, with Conservative MP Tracey Crouch calling them “smoke and mirrors”.
The Premier League’s new independent regulator, which was confirmed by a government white paper last month, will have the power to introduce a more stringent owners’ and directors’ test.
It remains to be seen if the new rules will effectively prevent individuals linked to serious human rights violations from taking control of Premier League clubs and using them for state sportswashing.
The league’s implementation of the rules will be closely watched by human rights groups and other stakeholders in the football industry.