The Premier League Owners’ and Directors’ Test and international human rights – David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods draft proposed changes for Amnesty International UK

Amnesty International UK has recently asked David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods to examine the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test. The Premier League – run by a limited company – applies this Test to anyone seeking to own or be a director of the football clubs that are current members of the League.

Amnesty International had concerns about the recent bid by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to purchase Newcastle United FC. Amnesty International saw this as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to “sportswash” its human rights record by using an affiliation with top‑flight football as a distraction.

David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods found that Premier’s League current Owners’ and Directors’ Test would not prevent someone owning a football club based on complicity in international human rights violations. The Test contained prohibitions based on certain specific circumstances, such as particular offences, broadcast piracy or insolvency, but nothing linked to human rights concerns. Nor did it contain any more general “fit and proper person” criterion.

They have provided Amnesty International with a proposed amendment to the Premier League’s Rules to address this. The proposal would introduce a specific prohibition on football club ownership by those who have been complicit in serious international human rights violations. It would also enable the Premier League Board to carry out a “fit and proper person” assessment of potential club owners.

Alongside this, David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods provided Amnesty International with a commentary setting out the context for such a change. This examined trends both in corporate governance generally and in sports governance specifically, including football. It found that the Premier League’s current Test departed from current norms and that the proposed amendment would be more in keeping with them.

Amnesty International has now provided this material to the Premier League and released it publicly as part of its ongoing efforts to campaign for change to prevent “sportswashing”. Amnesty International’s press release can be found here. This includes a link to download the proposed amendments to the Test and the accompanying commentary.

Barristers
David Chivers QC
Seamus Woods