FA 'blazers' step into the modern world

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The Independent Online

Whisper it quietly, but the Football Association is on the brink of modernising its archaic, procrastination-prone structure after the "blazers" of the 91-man FA Council yesterday confounded fears of a damaging stalemate and voted to adopt in full the recommendations of the Burns Review.

The proposals will involve the restructuring of the FA Board to include a powerful independent chairman, and voting rights for the first time for the FA's chief executive, an office currently held by Brian Barwick.

The FA Council will be expanded to include supporters, players (via their union, the Professional Footballers' Association), managers (via the League Managers' Association), and referees, as well as representatives of disability and black and ethnic minority groups. There will also be greater representation of the professional and semi-professional game. The other most significant change will be the establishment of a semi-autonomous Regulation and Compliance Unit to oversee disciplinary matters.

Lord Burns completed his review in August last year. The aim of his recommendations was to create a governing body less likely to be divided by tensions between the professional game and national game (hence wider representation) and more able to make swifter executive decisions (hence the new independent chairman and voting rights for the chief executive).

Yesterday's voting will not be rubber-stamped until early next year, when the FA's shareholders will need to approve it with a 75 per cent majority, which is now expected to be a formality.

The meeting began with an initial vote over whether Lord Burns's proposals should be considered en masse, or individually. The councillors voted for the long haul, and at this stage all representatives of the professional game made it clear they would be abstaining from further votes as they only had a mandate to vote in favour of the proposals as a whole.

In theory, this could have derailed the process as the national game was perceived to be significantly more "anti-Burns" in that changes would lessen non-professional influence. But over the course of lengthy debates, during which Barwick was said to have given an "impassioned speech for change", the turkeys voted for Christmas. In all, 16 separate proposals were considered and a series of votes was held at which each proposal was passed either unanimously or by a majority.

"I am delighted that these proposals have been passed by the council," said the FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, who will be replaced by the independent chairman when he steps down in 2008, as long as the plans are ratified. "There was an impassioned debate among the councillors. It was very important that we gave everybody the opportunity to talk about the issues and express their views."

"This is great news for the FA and for the whole of football," Barwick said. "It is vital for the reputation of the FA that we take these steps to modernise and lead the game properly."

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