MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian soccer faces its biggest upheaval in 15 years after sweeping governance reforms were endorsed on Tuesday, marking the end of the Lowy family's long reign over the domestic game.
Football Federation Australia's Congress voted in favour of changes to the body's constitution at an Extraordinary General Meeting, ending a two-year power struggle that had threatened the country's FIFA membership and its Asian Cup title defence.
The FFA board led by chairman Steven Lowy had fought bitterly against the FIFA-backed reforms, saying they would rob the board of its independence and transfer resources from the grassroots to the more powerful professional clubs.
However, the reforms were passed 8-2, paving the way for an expanded Congress to vote in new board directors.
Lowy, who succeeded his billionaire father Frank as chairman three years ago, confirmed that he would not seek re-election at an annual general meeting next month and said he held grave fears for the game's future in Australia.
"I hope for the best for the game clearly, I certainly fear for the worst," he told reporters at a media conference in Sydney.
"Our game today has crossed a red line from a corporate governance model for football to one where stakeholders with vested interests will compete for power and resources as opposed to these being decided by independent members of a board."
The reforms, hammered out by a working group of FFA, FIFA and Asian Football Confederation delegates months ago, will expand the Congress from its current 10 members to 29, offering more representation to clubs, players and women.
"We are relieved that this issue has been resolved and a unified decision has been made," players' union boss John Didulica said in a statement.
A failure to pass the reforms could have paved the way for FIFA to take over administration of Australian soccer and suspend the nation from international tournaments, including the Asian Cup.
The Congress also passed a resolution to set up a process for a new governance model for domestic competition, including the A-League, which has been under FFA control since its rebirth out of the ashes of the defunct National Soccer League in 2005.
That could mean a new executive separate from the FFA to run the competition, which would be welcomed by clubs who have long complained of being shut out of its administration by the board.
The vote effectively ends the Lowys' 15-year involvement in Australian football since shopping centre tycoon Frank took over the faction-riddled and bankrupt code in 2003 after being approached by former Prime Minister John Howard.
Running effectively a dictatorship but supported by the federal government, Frank Lowy could claim a number of successes and a few notable failures before handing the reins to his son in 2015.
Under his watch, Australia's men qualified for their first World Cup in 32 years at the 2006 tournament in Germany and have reached all three finals since.
Lowy's successful bid to have Australia join the Asian confederation in 2006 proved a boost for the nation's competitiveness, while the 10-team A-League has grown steadily despite financial crises that led to a number of clubs folding.
Australia's ill-fated bid for the 2022 World Cup won by Qatar was a huge black eye for the Lowy administration, however, yielding only a single vote from FIFA's executive committee despite squandering millions in public funds on consultants.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien)