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The A-League ban cycle

Is it time to introduce standing seats in Melbourne at AAMI Park? (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Roar Guru
29th November, 2015
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Hot on the heels of Rebecca Wilson’s article in The Daily Telegraph, publishing the names and faces of many people on the FFA’s banned list, fans have voiced their discontent not just towards sections of the Australian media but equally toward the FFA.

Much has articulated itself around the notion of an ‘appeals process’, but the discussion needs to be refined so that it is understood that the discontent revolves around the fundamental nature and the tone of the FFA’s judicial system.

Of more importance than an appeals process is the development of a transparent framework of sentencing guidelines to determine the reasonable length of bans attributed to certain types of offences.

This is because on top of a rather unclear process of appeal, of most relevance has been the cycle of ever stiffer penalties and ban lengths for ever more frivolous offences.

For football fans, it needs to be said that what has perhaps struck a chord most deeply is not just the leaking of confidential identity information but rather the connection that Alan Jones seemed to suggest between A-League fans and those who carried out the recent Paris terrorist attacks.

Why does this strike a chord and what does it have to do with the FFA?

To answer that it is useful to go back to the A-League’s early days when the league’s explosive transition from a minority sport to a majority sport came with articles about crowd disorder and the associated comments from FFA officials about “zero tolerance”.

This was followed up with a low-key announcement by the FFA three days before Christmas in 2007 regarding the hiring of a consultancy firm called Hatamoto.

It did not escape fans’ notice that Hatamoto did not have any background experience in either football or dealing with football fans, rather their background qualifications were in counter-terrorism.

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It’s hardly surprising then that this would come across as rather condescending and patronising and it has set the tone of the FFA-fan relationship ever since, which has involved the banning of the Eureka Flag among other things.

Fast forward to the previous week, and it is not too difficult to understand why Jones’ comments equating A-League fans and terrorism will have dredged up so much universal discontentment from fans towards the FFA.

Referring back to the issue of sentencing guidelines, it is necassary to point out that the FFA seem to have fundamentally misdiagnosed the root cause of disorder at football games and the reasons for negative publicity.

Nick S wrote an interesting article on The Roar about why the negative publicity occurs.

As for diagnosis, it needs to be said that the FFA and other authority figures seem to perceive disorder at football events occurring because of the anti-social disposition of some crowd members.

We can see how over time the continued mismanagement of A-League fans never failed to prevent crowd disorder issues from occasionally flaring up or negative publicity.

What is important to note, however, is that the FFA never revised their mindset as a result, but continuously reinforced the same “zero tolerance” policy framework based around regulatory measures and ever harsher penalties every time there was negative publicity.

For example, after four years the situation had evolved to the point where Ben Buckley was publicly mooting the idea of banning people from even being able to participate as a player in football.

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By August 2012, there had been 43 people banned and ban lengths had increased to 3-5 years.

Of course, as we all know, within the last three years those numbers have increased to 198 and ban lengths in the timeframe of 10 years wasn’t an uncommon reference in the article.

This pattern represents something of an exponential increase.

Modern schools of thought understand disorder as occurring as a process of interaction between groups – often between different fan groups – but the police and stadium security staff are understood as a group as well and a contributing factor.

Therefore, the way in which the FFA, and police or security, interact with fans is a critically important factor given they impact the crowd psychology of the fans.

If the FFA seem really want to change their attitude, actions speak louder than words and they should hire new security advisors able to advise on managing the crowd psychology of fans.

As for policing and security, it would also be useful to utilise a low-profile friendly but firm approach in place of a high-profile zero tolerance approach.

Adopting a more fluid and dynamic graded deployment approach, which has about four levels at international tournament level but would perhaps only require three at A-League level, for marquee fixtures would also prospectively be of benefit.

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This is a system where for example Level 1 consists of a comprehensive net of friendly community police in pairs engaging the crowd positively and promptly nipping any emerging disorder issues early in the escalation cycle (before a significant banning offence can even be committed. Level 3 consists of small groups of public order ‘sledgehammer’ police who are kept out of sight until required for a specific task and then withdrawn.

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