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Barwick defends FA after inquiry criticism

Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick has strongly defended the game's governing body from criticism by Lord Stevens' bungs inquiry.

Barwick insists all but one of Stevens' recommendations on changes to agents' regulations are being introduced by the FA anyway.

The FA chief also referred to there being 'little detail concerning irregular transfer activities' in today's announcement of the findings of the nine-month investigation into alleged illegal payments.

He also stressed that the FA is already committed to boosting numbers in and resources of their compliance department which oversees transfers.

Barwick said: 'While there was little detail concerning irregular transfer activities, at today's press conference Lord Stevens highlighted various criticisms of the FA and the compliance department. He also made certain recommendations.

'The overwhelming majority of these recommendations had already been formulated by the FA prior to his inquiry.

'Many were introduced as part of the existing domestic agents' regulations and others will form part of the new regulations which come into force next summer.

'The need to prevent dual representation, which Lord Stevens identifies as the key conflict of interest in this area, is something that has been driven by the FA for over two years.

'Therefore we were delighted when the Premier League endorsed this policy last summer, and it will come into force in May 2007.

'In fact, of the 39 recommendations, 32 concern the FA and of these only one measure does not form part of the regulation of agents. The FA board have already approved an independent audit in every transfer window.'

The Stevens report says 'The FA failed to monitor in any detailed or systematic way the arrangements connected to transfers occurring during the inquiry period.

'The FA's clearing-house system failed to review the information on unusual payments or transfers as thoroughly as it should have done.'

But Barwick insisted the FA 'had full confidence' in their compliance department.

He added: 'Earlier this year, the FA decided to significantly increase the resource dedicated to the compliance and registrations areas, with more dedicated investigative resource - both internal and external - and an upgrading of database systems to streamline the administration of transfers.

'We are confident that the `arms-length' regulation and compliance unit foreseen by Lord Burns will further strengthen our ability to govern this area of the game.

'We trust that the FA shareholders will support these proposals when they vote on the structural review in March.

'The FA have full confidence in our compliance department and its ability to regulate the game. The department is staffed by investigative specialists in a number of areas, including a former police officer and forensic accountant.'

Barwick stressed that the FA already had a detailed education programme on transfer rules for clubs, players and agents.

He said: 'While Lord Stevens also notes that some clubs failed to meet their responsibility to properly know football's rules and regulations, we should make clear that the FA have an extensive ongoing education programme in place to make sure all clubs, players and agents are fully aware of regulations and any changes to them.

'In fact, in the past week we have held briefings for both Premier League and Football League clubs.'

Barwick did promise however that the FA would continue to co-operate with Quest.

He added: 'I would like to make it absolutely clear that we are fully committed to tackling irregularities in the game, together with the Premier League and Quest.

'I would like to make clear that the FA have supported Quest throughout their inquiry and we will continue to do so, moving forward.'

Sports minister Richard Caborn today claimed Lord Stevens' inquiry had highlighted the urgent need for the Football Association to implement the Burns review.

Lord Burns was asked to conduct a review of English football's governing body by the Government at the end of 2004, following a year of controversy for the FA.

Caborn said: 'I welcome Lord Stevens' report and the thorough way he and his team have gone about investigating alleged irregularities in relation to transfer dealings.

'It has cleared the vast majority of these transfers, which is encouraging news for the reputation and integrity of the game. I also welcome the recommendations in the report to improve the regulation of agents and the transfer system.

'It is now for the FA with the support of the rest of football, especially the Premier League, to urgently take forward the Burns recommendations for a semi-autonomous compliance unit. I am confident this will happen.

'With the increasingly international nature of the game I also believe that improved governance at a European and international level is essential if these improvements are to be effective.'

A leading agent feels it is 'an absolute necessity' the FA agree to the recommendation of an independent body to audit transfers following the release of Lord Stevens' report.

'It's an absolute necessity the FA do this,' said Phil Smith, director of the leading First Artist Corporation.

'The FA cannot cope. It's all very well (chief executive) Brian Barwick increasing the numbers of staff on the compliance unit, but they haven't been able to handle matters.

'There's a lot of money going out of the country, not just out of the game because they are unable to complete checks on where it is all going.'

The Football Supporters Federation backed the calls for tough sanctions against people found to be taking illegal payments.

FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke said: He said: 'One of Lord Stevens' recommendations was there should be a greatly strengthened audit and compliance function. We would certainly support that.

'Part of the conclusion is the game has got to improve its procedures any way, and we will now expect the Premier League and Football Association to start implementing some of these.'