Behind the windows of Manchester there is an insane love of football, of celebration
No ratification without independent verification
19th February 2011
Details to do with who owns Manchester United Football Club are no longer in the public domain and we now only have the Glazers' word that they are in fact the owners. This lack of transparency means that the Premier League’s ‘Owners and Directors Test’ is meaningless. UEFA rules to do with people not owning more than one football club cannot now be enforced. This lack of transparency about ownership renders the game ungovernable. Government action is urgently required to address this issue because the Premier League has no inclination to do so and the FA is powerless to act without their support. IMUSA calls for no ratification of those claiming to be owners of our football clubs until this has been independently verified.
Since coming to own the club in 2005, the Glazers, a Florida based family who had never even been to Manchester prior to their takeover, have completely exposed the ineffectiveness of the largely illusory self-regulation of our national game and have exploited this lack of strong governance to the full.
Richard Caborn, the then Minister for Sport met with the Glazers soon after their takeover and had a ‘quiet word’ with them about their unwritten obligations to the local community, the England football team and the fans. A year or so later he was forced to contact them again, this time because the Glazers had not engaged with the fans and had refused point blank to do so. The Glazers simply ignored the Minister’s letter, did nothing to act on the requests contained within it and never in fact even replied to it, despite being asked several times by the Minister's office to do so.
The Glazer family have further distanced themselves from Manchester by moving the club’s commercial offices, and the main focus of their interest in Manchester United, to London’s West End (50 Pall Mall and more recently 5 Stratton Street, Mayfair). In recent months they have also taken steps to remove details to do with the ownership of Manchester United from the public domain. They have done this by relocating the company that ultimately owns the club into the US state of Delaware, where such information can legally be kept hidden.
The question is, does it matter that the details of the ownership of our club are no longer in the public domain, that we don’t really know who owns Manchester United Football Club anymore?
IMUSA’s view is that yes it does matter. Our view is that this matters very much indeed and this is not only because ‘anonymous owners of Red Football LLC’ does not sit well next to the names of such notables as JH Davies and James Gibson.
It is because the Premier League is unable to enforce the ‘Owners and Directors Test’(formerly the fit and proper persons test) unless this information is in the public domain and can be independently verified. Otherwise, all owners who may not pass this test need to do is put forward a proxy.
Similarly, UEFA rules, for very obvious reasons to do with sporting competition, prevent owners from owning more than one club which also cannot be enforced without knowing with certainty who owns which club.
Finally, it is well recognised that overseas betting rings and organised crime have become increasingly interested in gaining influence over European football and it is equally well recognised that the best defence against this is complete transparency so that corruption has nowhere to hide.
The Premier League have sought to reassure fans that they do in fact know with certainty who owns Manchester United but can’t reveal how they know. We are not aware if they actually tapped their noses when they said this but the implication is clear. That the only way the Premier League, the body charged with implementing the Owners and Directors Test, can be sure that it has subjected the right people to this is by engaging in some sort of clandestine activity.
This lack of transparency means that PL and UEFA rules to do with ownership cannot be enforced. It makes the game unnecessarily vulnerable to ‘unsavoury influences’. This lack of transparency renders the game effectively ungovernable. IMUSA’s view is that this situation cannot be allowed to continue. We call for no ratification of those claiming to be owners of our football clubs until this has been independently verified
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport inquiry into football governance is still live and so we ask members and other interested parties to contact their MPs requesting that they raise this issue with Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and Olympics.
A line or two to the Premier League could also prove useful but people who do this should expect the same generic, evasive and uninformative replies that were sent to us. The point here isn’t to get the Premier League to answer questions about who owns Manchester United and how they know this for certain, because they won’t.
The point is to make them aware that people are asking the question.
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