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A fresh direction is needed for football

Frank Lowy will step down as FFA chairman in November. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Roar Guru
3rd September, 2015
39

While the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh and the ongoing collective bargaining agreement between the PFA and FFA rumbles on, there is another issue of vital importance to football’s future.

This is the succession plan of Frank Lowy and other ‘new dawn’ board members including Brian Schwarz and Phillip Wolanski.

The first dimension to consider relates to the notion that if anyone had the temerity to challenge the hand-picked successors this would constitute a return to ‘the bad old days’.

This is rather disingenuous as the most obvious issue with Steven Lowy prospectively being parachuted into place raises the obvious issue of nepotism within the game.

A true sign of football having made progress is that the fraternity would be evolved enough to be able to handle a robust and transparent democratic process. Indeed the debate over the election would raise a healthy analysis within the fraternity over what is the optimum direction of the game in its next era.

For example the recent players pay dispute has been bubbling along for a little while now and it is interesting to contemplate the issues surrounding the speculated levels of FFA executive remuneration.

This is deeply connected to the question as to the source of wealth generation within the football fraternity, and in terms of Australia whether it is a matter of spectators going to watch players or fans attending a match involving their team.

Sydney FC and Melbourne City suggests the former, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney points to the latter being the case.

In years gone by, the question ‘is Viduka and Kewell playing?’ would be a major determinant in whether many people would attend a Socceroos game. That is arguably not so much the case now.

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And this is without going into grassroots participation and the football economy at that level.

The truth of the matter lies in the fact that the wealth of Australia’s football fraternity is derived from all of its stakeholders and tensions arise when there is an excessive concentration of power in either one stakeholder or another.

Looking ahead then, the proposed succession plan of Lowy which involved his son Steven, from the ranks of the Westfield empire, Crispin Murray, an investment banker from BIT investment management, and Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, head of institutional banking and markets at Commonwealth Bank, can be considered top-heavy with a corporate orientation.

One of these candidates should be considered suitable from the perspective that football needs to go through a phase of heavy capital investment with the projected increase of TV broadcast revenue.

It is good to have someone from the outside who can give a fresh perspective.

There is an argument that for all of his good work, Lowy’s era can be categorised with ‘two-steps forward and one step back’ and there has been a groupthink problem based around too much of a corporate mindset permeating the halls of FFA headquarters.

From that perspective it is unsurprising then that the FFA has run into significant tension over the years with fans, investors, players, and of course the ‘old soccer’ demographic who for better or worse still represent part of the heritage and history of the sport in this country.

Even when the FFA Cup was belatedly introduced – five years too late – it wasn’t able to be free of the issues many have with a perceived excessive NSW-centricity permeating the organisation.

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This is reflected in the placings whereby NSW is arguably over-represented and other states/regions such as South Australia severely under-represented.

It has been extremely welcome then to notice that Football Federation Victoria president Kimon Taliadoros has announced his intention to put forward their own candidate for board selection with the welcome prospect of other state bodies following.

While the merits or otherwise of the candidate in mind are unknown, Victoria is home to the A-League era’s benchmark club Melbourne Victory. On the national scale it is home to Australia’s largest sporting organisation in the guise of the AFL so there is a strong argument the state generally has a lot to offer in furthering the interests of football, which should be reflected in its influence.

The timing couldn’t be better for the FFV’s announcement considering that five of the remaining eight teams of this season’s FFA Cup are based in Victoria.

Looking ahead, it needs to be understood that football as a phenomenon is half business and half sociological.

Therefore it needs to be appreciated that a breadth of stakeholders needs to be represented at FFA board level. This includes horizontally players, managers, administrators, even fans, and vertically the professional tiers, the semi-professional tiers and the grassroots.

All of the stakeholders are more likely to sing from the same hymn sheet with reduced prospect of tensions.

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