International Herald Tribune
British lawmakers to investigate Liverpool turmoil, want owners to give evidence
Friday, April 25, 2008

MANCHESTER, England: British lawmakers will investigate the turmoil at Liverpool triggered by the Premier League club’s warring owners.

Widespread concerns about Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. will be the focal point of an inquiry into the governing structure of English soccer.

It is hoped that Gillett will give evidence at one of the five planned hearings at the British Parliament between May and June, but an invitation is yet to be extended to Hicks, a person close to the All Party Parliamentary Football Group told The Associated Press. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans weren’t completed.

Gillett could use the platform to discuss his grievances with Hicks, who has threatened to block the Montreal Canadiens owner selling his 50 percent stake to a Dubai-backed group.

“If they are willing to come I would be delighted,” Alan Keen, chairman of the soccer group, separately told the AP. “If only one decides to come, and that works out like that, maybe the other will feel he has to come.”

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry, whose resignation was demanded by Hicks in defiance of Gillett, is also considering appearing. The legislators are also keen to hear from UEFA president Michel Platini, who is an outspoken critic of foreign ownership.

“What worries me is people who aren’t interested in football treating football clubs as money-making machines,” Keen said. “The two Americans (at Liverpool) may appreciate the culture and traditions, and enjoy the enthusiasm of supporters for a time, but it comes back to business — that’s why people own sports teams in the States.”

Liverpool’s Champions League exploits have been eclipsed by the sideshow enveloping the Anfield boardroom. Rafa Benitez’s side goes to Chelsea on Wednesday in the second leg of the semifinal after a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

“English club football is enjoying great success in Europe at the moment,” Keen said. “Yet many questions remain about the standard of corporate governance and whether it is best equipped to deal, at every level, with the long term challenges of the game’s future. This is the focus of the group’s new inquiry.

“The group will examine case studies on governance, including Liverpool FC where the role of the owners has raised significant public concerns and overshadowed achievements on the field.”

Keen is concerned about the deadlock at Anfield and whether it will affect the budget for manager Rafa Benitez.

Benitez met twice with Hicks this week to discuss transfer targets, but insisted on sharing all the information with Gillett.

PCP Capital Partners is working with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to rescue the Reds. Despite Hicks’ hardline stance, the Dubai camp remains confident of sealing a deal by the end of May, a financial executive close to the deal said. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deal.

The wide-ranging inquiry by members of the House of Commons and Lords plans to hear about other ownership models, such as FC Barcelona’s member-share scheme.

They will also examine the application of the Premier League’s “fit and proper person” test, by which new owners are judged.

The 13 legislators and peers will investigate whether foreign owners are committed to investing in the grass roots. The committee plans to deliver its findings in the fall.



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