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The Government of Soccer

Today saw the publication of the recommendations for reform of the English Football Association (FA) following a review by Lord Terry Burns. Unlike the major leagues in the US, most leagues in Europe and the rest of the world belong to a national federation that claims authority over the regulation, organisation, and promotion of the game at all levels. In particular, governing bodies have the power to tax professional teams in order to subsidise the development of the game. The FA is the original model for governance of team sports outside the US, and no doubt many federations, especially in the soccer world, will consider carefully any changes adopted by the FA.

Until now the problem, in a nutshell, has been the failure of the professional game, which generates the income, to agree with representatives of the amateur game, who have traditionally dominated the FA, over how soccer should be managed, and even what the appropriate decision making framework should be. Lord Burns has recommended the creation of a Board, operating much like the Board of directors of a public company, with a CEO an full executive powers over the game in England. Board members would be appointed by the Council of the FA, acting as a kind of parliament for soccer, with guaranteed equal representation for the professional and amateur game. In addition, he recommends that fans be given increased representation on the Council, that the surplus generated by the FA (from the games played the national team and the FA Cup) be distributed according to fixed formula, mainly for the benefit of the "grass roots" and that an independent regulatory authority be established within the FA to oversee disciplinary issues.

The review of governance was strongly backed by the UK government and it is likely that the recommendations will be implemented, probably in full. The result is likely to be a much stronger sense of direction being imparted to the game as a whole, which may not entirely suit the commercial interest of the professional clubs. In the extreme, if the amateur side of the FA becomes too assertive the professional clubs might be tempted to go it alone. the increased voice for the fans will also be an interesting development, since many of them advocate full-blown regulation of the sport. So, we can look forward to to the smack of strong government in soccer, though it remains to be seen whether that will also mean better governance.