FFA congress skullduggery a rank distraction

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    So when will the mini-series come out? What Logie-baiting cast will be assembled and to what depths of melodramatic villainy will they have to sink to do the whole noxious affair justice?

    Of course early script drafts will have to wait, because the narrative is still unfolding, laying malodorous limbs over Australian football, paralysing progress to the point where even FIFA is surveying the scene with wrinkled noses and curled lips.

    Sydney FC just signed a former Polish international, still in the midst of his prime years, further adding to what will surely be an impressive title defence. But it’s hard to celebrate evidence of the game’s growth when the stench of the governing body’s internal chaos is wafting over everything, choking our whoops of joy.

    Each new development is more stunningly repugnant than the last. The tension, which began some time ago now, between the FFA and the A-League clubs and PFA always threatened to spill out into acrid warfare; it was a logical eventuality, even when the situation was in its early stages as a dissatisfied thrumming in the background we all assumed would be put right before things devolved into fisticuffs.

    The statements from the clubs have gone from hopeful nudging to outright attacks, and tracking the public statements of some of the more prominent A-League club chairmen gives an accurate record of how the relationship has curdled.

    In 2015 the Victory’s Anthony Di Pietro spoke on the subject with words cushioned by diplomacy and restraint; “There needs to be a review of the engagement between the A-League and the FFA” he said when Frank Lowy stepped down.

    Two years later and Adelaide’s Greg Griffin is making no attempt to mince words, speaking incandescently on the congress stalemate as well as threatening legal action against the FFA over their refusal to open up their books to the clubs.

    This week saw remarkable back alley shenanigans, with Steven Lowy and the FFA scurrying frantically to twice disrupt an agreement between the state federations and the A-League-PFA alliance over an acceptable proposal for a new congress structure, one that would broaden the influence of the A-League clubs over congress decisions and pare back the power of the FFA in the process.

    Evidently unhappy with the prospect, Lowy inspired a sudden, last-minute change of heart in the state federations, and Greg Griffin – who is also chairman of the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association – spoke openly about how disappointed he was by the FFA board’s blatant meddling.

    (Image: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    It’s hardly surprising – however galling – that the FFA was so active in its skullduggery; the uncharacteristically fiery statement Lowy released last week implied the FFA were prepared to act in new, vexatious ways to defend the status quo.

    All the while a FIFA committee sent to mediate and oversee a resolution to this toxic deadlock was watching on, no doubt enjoying a distorted sense of pleasure from somehow being the party relied upon to give advice on how to better democratise and make transparent the governance of football.

    The A-League – and Australian football more generally – is cautiously stepping out of its adolescence, but it is still tender; like an awkward teenager, its parents, with one embarrassing public episode, can send it sloping back into its bedroom to crumple into an antisocial heap on the bed.

    The FFA’s governance has been objectively awful, at least with respect to their ability to diplomatically lubricate the relations between itself and the various quasi-segregated elements that fall within its purview.

    Obviously the desires of the A-League clubs are going to be in many ways irreconcilable with the state federations’ demands. The way the A-League is estranged from the NPL competitions means catering for all parties, let alone investing appropriately into lower grassroots football, is difficult. But the opacity of the FFA’s inner workings and now this week’s excruciating incidents are all factors that have eroded away our sympathy for Lowy and co.

    It’s not just the club chairmen – or the rest of those with a tangible stake in things – who are fed up; we’re all weary and irritable.

    The FIFA committee has gone now, having observed the last few torrid developments and having done little to loosen the impasse while they were here. Perhaps they thought their mere presence would scare the FFA into softening their position, but they now know how deep heels are dug in. An official FIFA statement, perhaps even one that begins the process of removing the board, may come in the next few months, certainly before this November.

    There are a great number of issues that Australian football should be addressing, but none of them can be looked at properly while this overarching stoush rumbles on. Prosperity can hardly survive surrounded by dysfunction this acute, and all trust between the parties has, by now, dried up, turned to dust and blown away on the harsh winds raking over the war zone.

    The battle is filled with adversaries, most of them fuelled by opposing desires, some linked by compatible convictions, all of them ideally allies in the campaign to grow the game.

    Everyone yearns for the war to end.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.