Both football and rugby union in England prevent the common ownership of teams that play in their competitions, a defence against the conflict of interest when two teams with the same owner play each other. In European football this issue was dealt with by the Court for Arbitration in Sport nearly twenty years ago after the investment company ENIC bought stakes in clubs in Athens and Prague; since when in England Owners’ and Directors’ Tests have been introduced by both the Premier League and Football League that bar individuals from holding a significant interest in two clubs. The FA has its own separate test.
Despite the very great concentrations of money in football and the advantages it gives to those who have it, there is something to say the integrity of the game is still fundamental, that whatever the pre-match odds, the outcomes of matches are not fixed. In 2017 the take-over of Gloucester Rugby Club by Mohed Altrad, the wealthy owner of the club in Montpellier, reportedly a good owner willing to invest substantially, was blocked by Premiership Rugby. In cricket in the first-class game 15 of the counties are currently registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act; the other three, Durham, Hants and Northants have different owners. Multiple team ownership within England’s major team sports has either been regulated on the basis that it is to akin to a no-no, or has otherwise just remained a non-issue over the decades.
The new 2020 t20 is different in that the game’s governing body is creating the teams that will be playing in it. While this does not necessarily mean they can’t be independent, the ECB has so far has consistently maintained that the eight team competition will be ‘ECB-owned’, which raises the question what does or at least what might this mean? What here is light, what is shade?
Daniel Brettig wrote a piece last year titled ‘The big argument before the Big Bash’ in which he relates the differences there were within Australian cricket over ownership before not taking finance from business people involved in the IPL; passing by ‘the free cheese in the mousetrap’. On this subject Michael Atherton also wrote a piece in The Times last summer looking at the different t20 leagues around the world, and also arguing for the advantages of not relying on external funding, so that the profits that come along are available to nurture its future stars.
While there is plainly a question mark against the existence of any profits from 2020 t20, this part of ‘the future’ could, with a bit of effort maybe, be seen as light. As to the management of the new competition, a reasonable question is whether the board of the ECB would pass the FA’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test? The declaration the FA requires directors to sign has as point number one
“I am not either directly or indirectly involved in or have the power to determine or influence the management or administration of another Football Club”
so after allowing for the specifics of its context, and wording, but given its intention and particularly how widely it is drawn, quite how would the ECB’s directors (and the directors of a competition board) not fail it in relation to 2020 t20?
A regulatory body that owns the regulated seems likely to have problems from what might be called regulatory capture contraflow. As for t20 cricket keeping its profits within cricket, but avoiding the issues surrounding teams with a common owner, in England this is, of course, the competition known as the T20 Blast. Given that the ECB is directing the future of the game away from it, the not so straightforward questions are quite why so, and where are they heading?