Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Bruges Group Director Robert Oulds on GB News' Mark Dolan Tonight: Football reform, the World Cup, and Qatar

Mark Dolan GB News Robert Oulds football

Director of the Bruges Group Robert Oulds recently gave an interview to GB News presenter Mark Dolan on Mark Dolan Tonight on the 19 March, 2022. Robert Oulds appeared alongside former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton OBE to discuss the threat corruption poses to football clubs and the World Cup - particularly how to end sportswashing.

Recent sanctions on Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich have shone a spotlight on football ownership and the question of whether there should be a common set of criteria for eligible owners.

When asked by Mark Dolan on whether British football had 'sold it's soul', the Bruges Group director answered: "Absolutely, the Premier League is one of our greatest's something that we can be very proud of". Despite the great pride Britons can take in the strength of the Premier League, Mr Oulds made clear that there were still issues: "There are very little rules on who can be an owner or director of a club in some cases - we're not actually sure who runs some clubs....there could be indeed money laundering activities going on and people who are sports-washing."

"football in the UK generally needs to be cleaned up because otherwise it reflects on the whole game - and it reflects on us as well."

Mark Dolan also discussed concerns over the impacts of leveraged buyouts (LBOs) in football clubs, referring to controversy over the Glazer family's takeover of Manchester United and the means by which they bought the Club. Robert Oulds said of LBOs in football, "this is a common business practice and what the Glazers did regarding Manchester United was that they borrowed a large amount of money...these are massively large public limited companies, so they put the debt onto the company so they don't have any responsibility. If things don't work out financially, it's the football club that is ruined."

When Mark Dolan noted the increase in Manchester United's debt, Oulds agreed, saying that "there's so many clubs now, because there's so much pressure to succeed, that are getting into deep debt and some point they're going to have to be repaid. The whole country's going to have to repay its debts at some point but in the football league there's many clubs that are absolutely impoverished - and at some point, the bank manager will come knocking and want those debts repaid and [they] could indeed go to the wall because there's not enough accountability financially". Oulds also criticised football clubs who didn't follow UEFA's rules on "being able to spend more of what they take in; that means they'll be bust eventually".

Peter Shilton OBE, when reflecting on how the football environment had changed, said that the Premier League's status as a 'global league' was why foreign owners showed such an interest in club ownership. "They see it as an investments. Sometimes it helps their businesses by the profile of it...generally [however] all the fans want is success and they're always looking for success. Some of the big clubs now, with foreign money, have managed to provide that and the fans are happy with that".

"Certainly, there've been some people who have gone in and basically not really invested and used it as an investment…It is all about money now, which is not a great state for the game."

Peter Shilton also noted the improved state of the facilities, the global audience and hence the global interest that has gone into football, plus the benefit that the Srivaddhanaprabha Family has brought through their ownership of Leicester FC. Shilton, however, also noted his opposition to the place of gambling in football.

When asked if football would be as big and revered as it was today without the foreign investment, Robert Oulds said that while it can be welcomed, "sometimes this is sports washing". "Politics and sport aren't two separate things, they're indivisible. We have footballers who are human rights activists, telling the government what to do on policies" he noted.

On the broader issue of sports washing, Robert Oulds noted the controversy surrounding the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but when comparisons to the Qatar World Cup were made, Robert Oulds highlighted that "Qatar actually changed and is actually a model of how things improve…they're in a sense an antithetical because there it's been a force for good". Oulds discussed the imbalance of coverage against Qatar, and how other events in the region were not covered in the same way: "There is a very unequal depiction of various countries".

"Qatar is welcoming gay couples to go there and people can wave the rainbow flag."

While agreeing to the positive impacts that foreign ownership can often bring, Oulds raised concerns that this has allowed sports washing to take place in the past. "How would it reflect on us? Football, of course, is very important, but at what cost?" Oulds also noted that British players had a similarly large presence in the 1980s before big money came in, arguing that "they were winning before in Europe, in the 1980s…because English players had passion and English fans were very passionate".

Mr Oulds proposed strengthening the Owners' and Directors' Test to make sure those suspected of criminal activity cannot get into football. "We need to make sure clubs are properly audited, they follow good financial management so they aren't going to be going bust."He advocated for a stronger ethics policy so that ethics is no longer separated from the beautiful game.

Peter Shilton reflected on how the salaries of players had changed and how, while that may be a good thing, it demonstrated just how much football had changed.

Overall, Bruges Group Director Robert Oulds was able to discuss football reform, the rules of football ownership, the impact of big money on football, and the Qatar World Cup, bringing unique insight to the discussion, in his capacity both as Director of the Bruges Group but also a football journalist.

The discussion was held on GB News' Mark Dolan Tonight at 9.30 p.m. on the 19 March 2022. 

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