Premier League investigation into Man City finances further proof of football’s need for transparency

Yesterday’s appeals court ruling that blocked Manchester City’s attempt to prevent details of the Premier League’s investigation into the allegations of financial irregularities from being made public confirmed that an investigation is still in progress. The verdict is unlikely to make much of a difference for City, but it could have a long-standing impact on the governing body.

The Premier League opened its investigation into the club three years ago after the publication of hacked emails in The mirror this suggested that City had broken the rules of financial fair play. The Etihad sternly denies any wrongdoing.

The leaked information led to a similar case being pursued by UEFA. European football’s governing body banned City from the Champions League for two seasons and fined them € 30million. Last year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ban and reduced the fine to 9 million euros.

READ MORE: How CAS overturning Man City’s EU ban revealed UEFA was not fit for purpose

City objected to the competence of Premier League referees and were reluctant to release the information required by the investigation. The bulk of yesterday’s judgment, however, concerned reporting the case.

High Court Chancellor Sir Julian Flaux said: “The suggestion that press interest and speculation might disrupt the investigation or arbitration, where both are being conducted by experienced professionals, is entirely fanciful. Likewise, the suggestion that press comments and post-release speculation could harm the club’s relationship with business partners was unconvincing. “

The judges noted that the Premier League had backed City’s attempt to keep the case private. “The fact that the PL supports the Club’s call for both parties to the arbitration to oppose the publication has some weight, but should lead the Court to be careful not to simply accept the wishes of the parties without consideration. “said the judgment. Flaux backed this up with a quote from an earlier case: “When both sides agreed that the information should be withheld from the public, this is when the court had to be most vigilant.

This is a point that is likely to come back to haunt the Premier League. Demands for an independent regulator in football have grown stronger since the failed attempt to create a Super League in April. The government rushed into a “fan-led” review of football governance led by MP Tracey Crouch. The interim report of the 11-person panel is expected to be released in the coming days. The lack of transparency in the game has been one of the themes of the backlash from supporters against clubs and governing bodies and should be a major theme of the review.

The Premier League’s pledge to secrecy was highlighted on Monday when the Newcastle United takeover arbitration case was put on hold until next year. In Tyneside, the lack of information on why the Saudi-funded buyout stagnated has become a plague.

Last week, a delegation of supporters visited the governing body’s headquarters in London and protested outside with signs saying: “Public arbitration for our club”. Earlier this month Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, wrote to Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League, and Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, media and sport, to “demand a greater transparency “.

The Premier League’s relationship with Mike Ashley and the consortium keen to take over at St James’ Park has been opaque. The organization’s stance in the city’s appeal will rekindle concerns about football’s decision-making behind closed doors.

Without the publication of the Court of Appeal’s intervention yesterday, it would be impossible to know the state of play of the Premier League’s investigation into City. The club said: “The decision relates to an ongoing proceeding and we are obviously not in a position to comment until that proceeding is completed.”

The Premier League did not comment.

(Getty Images)

Lord Justice Males’ final point in yesterday’s appeal alluded to the lack of information in the public domain. He said: “The Club made a point of stressing before us that” the arbitration procedure concerns an ongoing and confidential investigative and disciplinary process which is still in its infancy “, and that no charges may be made. is never brought against it.

“While this may be true, it seems to me that this is, if any, a factor in favor of the publication. This is an investigation that began in December 2018. It is surprising, and of legitimate public interest, that so little progress has been made after two and a half years – during which, it should be noted, the Club were twice crowned as Premier League champions. “

Open communication is likely to become the next big issue in football administration. Secrecy may not be the best policy for the Premier League.

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