Burns aims to curb power of Premier League

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The Independent Football

The battle lines were being drawn last night after Lord Burns revealed his preliminary thoughts on his structural review of the Football Association.

The battle lines were being drawn last night after Lord Burns revealed his preliminary thoughts on his structural review of the Football Association.

Burns' provisional suggestions will delight many of the minor players in the game but some entrenched interests are likely to resist, such as the Premier League barons who face having their growing influence over the football's governing body cut back.

Burns' 15-page open letter recommends sweeping structural change in the 142-year-old body. He proposes that the FA Council should be turned into a "parliament" of football which should include representation from players, match officials, managers and supporters, as well as women, ethnic and disabled groups.

In the short term, this will mean swelling an already unwieldy body, because Burns recognises that turkeys do not vote for Christmas.

Thus, he suggests that the more anachronistic representatives (such as the Oxbridge universities and the armed services) should keep their seat until the sitting councillor retires. It will thus take time to lower an average age Burns believes is way too high.

This sop to the councillors, and a suggestion that long service will in future be rewarded with perks, not a vice-presidency with a place on the council, might work. Appeasing the Premier League over the proposed changes to the FA Board will be more daunting. Burns correctly identifies the board, which is only a few years old itself, as an unsuccessful "hybrid" structure bedevilled by internal tension and division.

The composition of the board, which is split between the professional and amateur leagues, is described as "a recipe for delay and even deadlock". Burns notes that many people represented in the FA to whom he spoke "refer to the FA as 'them' and 'they' rather than 'we' and 'us'," and that there has been too little focus on the "FA perspective". In other words, self-interest has ruled.

Burns suggests introducing non-executive directors, free of partisan interests, and a greater role for the FA's staff executives. Many FA staff, he notes, feel they are treated like "servants rather than executive professionals". He says there is a strong argument for one of the independent figures being chairman.

At present, Geoff Thompson is a largely invisible chairman of board and council. Burns suggests that once his mandate has ended, both bodies should have their own chairmen. The council chairman would act as the public face of the FA at home and abroad, while the board chairman would ensure the FA's work is executed.

Burns also feels there are too many committees meeting too frequently with too little purpose. He says these should be streamlined. One significant proposal is for disciplinary and regulation issues - which are spread among various committees - to be dealt with by a semi-autonomous regulation and compliance unit. This would reduce the risk of decisions being influenced by conflicts of interest.

Burns also suggests the formation of a community football alliance to run the non-professional game. The FA Cup, the England team and Wembley would continue to be run by the FA.

Burns intends to consult further before delivering his final report next month. The challenge then will be implementation. With the government taking an interest, albeit at arm's length, there will be pressure on the game to implement his recommendations.

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