The Burns Report changes are finally implemented at the FA. Bruce Wilkinson reports

Almost three years since Lord Burns was asked to put together a report into the structure of the FA, 21 months after it was presented and seven since it was ratified, the governing body’s shareholders have finally voted for the changes. When Burns originally looked at the governing body he immediately realised that its Byzantine structure made quick and incisive decision-making almost impossible. He declared that the FA Council was not representative of the diverse interests of the game and was out of touch with modern thinking. The author also highlighted a number of conflicts of interest among voting members.

The emergent structure includes a board comprising an independent chairman and chief executive, with five representatives each from the professional and the national game. Players, managers, referees, women’s football, ethnic minorities, disabled football and supporters’ groups will all be represented on the FA Council. There is a semi-autonomous Football Regulatory Authority to deal with disciplinary and governmental matters. A new funding formula will see the FA’s profits divided on a 50-50 basis between the professional and national game. The reorganisation is designed to allow for more streamlined decision-making, to avoid more fiascos like the building of the new Wembley and the scrapping of the National Football Centre.

Not surprisingly, chief executive Brian Barwick is very positive about the changes: “The decision marks the start of an exciting new era for the FA. This was a vote for change and for a modern, representative and effective FA, which is better equipped to take decisions in the wider interests of the game.”

“It’s not all we wanted. We believe supporters deserve a bigger voice,” said Malcolm Clarke of the Football Supporters’ Federation, though he welcomed the vote. “We look forward to nominating a supporter to sit on the FA Council and working with the FA to ensure that the best possible appointment of an independent chair is made to lead the FA. We want to ensure that the game gets the leadership it deserves.”

Phil French, chief executive of Supporters Direct, stated: “This vote is very much welcomed as an important step forward. Although it has taken nearly two years’ slog to deliver the Burns reforms, the FA Executive should be applauded for driving these proposals through in the face of continual opposition. We look forward to continuing our discussions on the whole issue of how responsible supporter representation can be reflected at every level of the Football Association beyond the one place on the FA Council.”

Although many of the changes are steps in the right direction, they still leave fans under-represented. Another worrying facet of the reorganisation is the people being suggested for the post of independent chairman. It is being widely reported that the government is pushing three names for the job, the most respectable of which is Eddie George, the former governor of the Bank of England, who would at least have the experience to keep a tighter grip on the body’s purse strings. The cigar-toting, cigarette-touting former Tory minister Ken Clarke is another rumoured candidate. Bizarrely, especially in light of the FA’s problems with scandals, the other name apparently in the running is that of Richard Evans, chairman of BAE Systems during the much investigated but recently dropped case of alleged bribery of the Saudi government.

Perhaps even more strangely for an “independent” chairman, it has also been reported that David Dein, fresh from his attempts to flog off Arsenal, David Sheepshanks, with his connections to Ipswich Town, the Football League and the FA, and Brian “no draws” Mawhinney are names being put forward for the post by the football community. How any of these candidates could be considered as independent with the amount of baggage that they carry with them is very difficult to see. It would be typical if, after finally making what seems like the great leap forward, the FA end up being controlled by one of the old guard who have held the game back for so long.

From WSC 245 July 2007

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