Football: Walker turns down top FA job

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A CLEAR indication that the Football Association are seeking an independent figure as their new chairman has come with an approach to Britain's most influential sports administrator, Sir Rodney Walker, to take over at Lancaster Gate following the resignation of Keith Wiseman.

Sir Rodney, a 55-year-old Yorkshire businessman who heads the UK Sports Council and the Rugby League, confirmed last week that he had been asked by three leading Premiership club chairmen if they could put him forward for the job.

He says he has declined with thanks. "Obviously I am very flattered but I am already accused of wearing too many hats and this really would be one too many. Running the FA has to be a full-time job and it would mean giving up most of the other projects with which I am involved, and at this stage I do not want to do that." These projects are now likely to include the 2002 Commonwealth Games for, as revealed in the news section, Sir Rodney has been asked to take over the financially troubled event.

Additionally he is involved in organising next year's rugby league World Cup, is supervising the new UK Sports Institute and is on the board of the company redeveloping Wembley. In fact, he will be at Wembley today, delaying a 25th wedding anniversary cruise to attend the Worthington Cup final as chairman of Leicester City plc. It was in this capacity that he was largely credited with keeping the manager Martin O'Neill at Filbert Street.

Sir Rodney has a reputation in sport for being one of the great persuaders and it is his proven effectiveness as a blunt-speaking hands-on overlord that encouraged some at the FA to approach him. Although the acting chairman, Geoff Thompson, David Sheepshanks, of Ipswich, and Sheffield Wednesday's Dave Richards are the leading candidates for the post, it is now apparent that the net is being cast wider. There is now a strong possibility that the next chairman, due to be elected this summer, will come from outside the existing membership of the FA Executive Council, a move which would have the approval of the Government who would like to see independent regulation of the football industry.

Meanwhile, the Government seem to be having difficulty filling another vacant hot seat - one in fact formerly occupied by Sir Rodney before he became chairman of the UK Sports Council. Efforts to recruit a new chairman of the English Sports Council broke down when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport declined to approve either of two recommended candidates, acting chairman Trevor Brooking and youth sports leader Geoff Thompson. The Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, made it clear that he favoured a woman, in particular the former Olympic star Tessa Sanderson.

Another ex-Olympian, Alan Pascoe, now a millionaire sports entrepreneur, was later widely tipped for the job but ruled himself out. The post was re-advertised and three more candidates were interviewed last week. But it could be that a compromise will see Brooking confirmed as chairman with Sanderson as his deputy.

Walker and the Games, Main section, page 5