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The Premier League is drawing up a formal process to force “bad” football club owners to sell their shares, following Roman Abramovich’s chaotic exit from Chelsea last year.
The English top flight is in talks with its members about introducing a so-called divestment protocol, according to four people with knowledge of the matter. This would set out a process for club owners to exit in cases when the league bars them from serving as directors owing to “disqualifying events”.
The discussion follows moves by the Premier League to toughen up its so-called owners’ and directors’ test, which assesses whether someone is fit to buy into a club. Disqualifying events, which can be appealed, now include human rights abuses and an extended list of criminal offences such as violence, corruption, fraud and tax evasion.
The divestment protocol is due to be discussed at a shareholder meeting in September, according to a person close to the league. Any rule changes require approval from at least 14 member clubs out of 20.
The Premier League declined to comment.
However, several clubs have concerns about the divestment protocol, two of the people said. One person said clubs were keen to ensure that the league avoided implementing “draconian” measures.
The protocol highlights how clubs and their owners have come under increased scrutiny since the collapse of the failed European Super League in April 2021, when a group of European clubs including Manchester United and Liverpool tried to set up a breakaway competition.
The UK government has also pledged to introduce an independent football regulator with the power to punish club owners, threatening the Premier League’s grip on the governance of its own affairs.
Some US professional sports leagues such as the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have rules allowing them to call a vote among fellow owners to force the sale of a team, although such moves are unusual.
The Premier League’s mooted divestment protocol is designed to govern what happens next in a Chelsea-like event, one of the people said, referring to the accelerated sale of the west London club last year in the wake of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale before the UK government imposed sanctions on him. Once sanctions were in place, the Premier League disqualified Abramovich as a director.
Without a sale, the club faced collapse because it had come to rely on Abramovich for cash, in effect forcing his hand. Carried out under the scrutiny of the UK government, US investors Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly won the auction, paying a record £2.5bn for the Premier League club.
The Premier League’s definition of “director” is broad and includes people who have control over a club, “shadow” directors who give instructions that are followed, and also chief executives.
Once the Premier League disqualifies a director, they have 28 days to resign and take action to “ensure that they no longer come within the definition”.
Even though Abramovich was disqualified as a director in March 2022, it took until the end of May that year to complete a sale in an auction that was conducted at an accelerated pace.
Other club owners could find it much harder to sell their shares at an attractive price in the event they are forced to do so by the league.
Additional reporting by Sara Germano