Grumbles over governance threaten to disrupt football’s growth in Australia

The Conversation Roar Guru

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    The ConversationFootball in Australia should be on a high. The Matildas achieved stunning success at the Tournament of Nations, the Socceroos are about to embark on the final stage of qualifying for their fourth World Cup in succession, and data show participation in the sport to be at an all-time high. Instead, football is in the midst of a crisis of governance.

    The game’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA), is beset by an array of challenges from the A-League clubs, the aspirant clubs in various state federations, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the Asian Football Confederation, and FIFA, the international football federation.

    The FFA has brought some of the current problems on itself by its heavy-handed – some would say dictatorial – behaviour. However, it’s worth defending the principle that the national governing body, not the clubs and not the states, should run the game.

    The numbers game

    The battle is largely being waged over the composition of the FFA Congress.

    At present, the Congress consists of ten members: nine representing the state federations and one for the A-League. There is general agreement that this model needs to be replaced by a larger, more representative one.

    FFA’s argument to FIFA is that all the other groups in the game – referees, players, women, coaches, clubs, futsal – have virtual representation through their state federations.

    FIFA says these special interest groups should have direct representation in the Congress. FFA counters that some of these groups have not yet established governing national bodies to represent them independently, and therefore have not reached the point at which they can be considered for separate membership.

    The A-League clubs, which are privately owned commercial organisations in possession of an FFA licence for a place in the league, have formed the Association of Professional Football Clubs to advance their case for greater representation. Their preferred model is to expand Congress to 17 members, with nine positions for the state federations, six for the A-League clubs, and two for the PFA (one for the men and one for the women).

    Meantwhile, the aspirational clubs currently playing in the second tier – the various state-based National Premier Leagues – have banded together to from the Association of Australian Football Clubs. Their aim is for separate representation in an expanded Congress.

    Meantime, the state federations have been considering their preferred model. New South Wales and Victoria have agreed on a nine-five-one structure, with five places for the A-League clubs and one for the PFA. The FFA’s proposal, which has the support of all the other states, is for a nine-three-one model.

    Lessons from history

    In 1962, the principle of club control was enshrined in the governance of the Australian Soccer Federation, just when its focus began to shift from local to national and international levels.

    The result was that the tail wagged the dog at a critical period in football’s history. This should not be allowed to happen again. The self-interest of the clubs needs to be curbed for the good of the game.

    In 2003, the Howard government stepped in to insist that any government investment in football depended on a root-and-branch reform of Soccer Australia (the FFA’s immediate predecessor).

    All three reports from that time on the game’s future – David Crawford’s, the Professional Footballers’ Association’s, and the one chaired by Andrew Kemenyi (specifically on the organisation of a national league) – came down in favour of a structural separation between the league and Soccer Australia.

    But Frank Lowy, the only man who had the experience of running the National Soccer League and who had stood unsuccessfully for the presidency of the Australian Soccer Federation, would not have a bar of that.

    He insisted on a unitary model, with what became the FFA having effective control of the A-League. The interests of the two bodies were bound to diverge at times, so he wanted to ensure that those of the FFA were paramount.

    While Lowy senior started with the moral authority to carry the game with him, his disastrous attempt to win hosting rights to the World Cup undermined that. His son Steven, who succeeded him as FFA chairman, has found it hard to gain parity of esteem. His strongly-worded media release restating the FFA’s case was a somewhat belated attempt to regain the initiative ahead of the FIFA delegation’s visit.

    Should we copy Europe?

    In other countries, the top leagues are often entirely separate bodies.

    The English Premier League may be the world’s most-watched and most competitive league, but its effect on the game in England has been problematic. For example:

    • The English national team suffers from only a tiny minority of the players in the Premier League being eligible to play for it.

    • Some of the top clubs have fielded teams without a single English player in their ranks.

    • Clubs outside the top tier have seen attendances stagnate or dwindle, while their share of TV and sponsorship revenues are a small fraction of those in the Premier League.

    • Clubs relegated from that league receive a “parachute payment” to enable them to renegotiate contracts and attract new players, and thus there is not a level playing field in the Championship (the league below the Premier League).

    In most countries where leagues or clubs dominate, there tends to be a duopoly at the top that skews the whole structure of the national game. This is reinforced by the inflow of private foreign money into the game from the Middle East and parts of Asia – including China.

    Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated Spanish football for generations, and a political division reinforces their rivalry. In Germany, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have had similar success even though they are touted as membership clubs rather than the offshoots of commercial concerns.

    The ConversationIn Australia, by contrast, in the 12 years of the A-League, six of the ten participant clubs have won the championship. It’s not clear that a structural separation of the A-League and FFA would be the better for the game in this country.

    Roy Hay, Honorary Fellow, Deakin University

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    The Crowd Says (58)

    • August 10th 2017 @ 4:14am
      peeeko said | August 10th 2017 @ 4:14am | ! Report

      Great to see “the conversation” contributing to the Roar. Good to have some opinion pieces written without bias and with some good research.

    • August 10th 2017 @ 5:33am
      Waz said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      These are not “grumbles” this is now out and out rebellion.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 10th 2017 @ 6:13am
      Stevo said | August 10th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      The ‘grumbles’ also relate to a host of other issues such as FFA finances and its distribution, a national second tier league and pro/rel. Governance has grabbed the headline but these other issues will play into the conversation surely. Is there a medium/long term roadmap to resolve these issues? Surely, at some future time, FIFA will want to see FFA and stakeholders present a plan within an agreed timeframe or else we might find FIFA knocking on our door again. On FFA’s governing style, the autocratic style of Frank Lowy may well have been necessary at the beginning but it surely can’t be the approach into the future if all tiers of the game and major stakeholders feel they are being heard.

    • August 10th 2017 @ 6:49am
      League table speaks said | August 10th 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      The real grumbles are philosophical. Clubs in Australia having football expectations from a football league.

      Promotion and relegation is an idea the ffa should be falling all over each other to implement. Its that good…

      Here and in the US its building a groundswell of support. The CAS action has little hope of winning but a great way to push the case.

    • August 10th 2017 @ 7:19am
      Greg said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      Good article. Mindblowing that some people are supporting this absurd change to the governance structure despite:
      a) how successful it has been; and
      b) the parties that seek to get rid of it for their own interests.

      The fans that advocate for this change typically fall into the pro/rel, 2nd division, remove salary cap etc. None of them though can fully articulate and cost a plan to do all these things. The FFA have made great steps towards a structure that connects the grassroots to the A-League via the FFA cup. And they did it quickly! But the focus must still be to grow the A-League through strategic growth decisions (ie where to place teams). Build up/invest in the growth of the A-League where it has strong geographical /population coverage and have it in a stable position. Then start thinking about pro/rel and all these other luxuries.

      • August 10th 2017 @ 7:51am
        RBBAnonymous said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        Absurd change you say. Not changing our governance is absurd you mean. There is a real risk of being kicked out of the AFC and of FIFA if we do not comply.

      • August 10th 2017 @ 9:57am
        mattq said | August 10th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        absurd comment. I think all football fans want the things you speak of, it is football after all. some are more patient and realistic that others but surely everyone can see there is a problem which needs fixing. the current structure worked in the early days because it was necessary to have tight control. times have changed and the comp can’t even afford to expand, it’s clearly time for a new model and no one could argue more stakeholders deserve a greater voice at congress level. no one is denying how successful the lowy era has been. what people are arguing for is it is time for a new model to ensure continued growth.

    • August 10th 2017 @ 8:09am
      chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      RBB I doubt very much that it will come to that. My thinking is that the resolution will lie somewhere in between what the clubs want and what the FFA want. It makes sense to have more representation at the table (coaches, referees etc). But to wrest control of the A-League from the FFA is asking for trouble. Otherwise we will go down a similar path to the EPL. Something along the lines of all tip and no iceberg.

      • August 10th 2017 @ 8:26am
        RBBAnonymous said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        That obviously means changing the governance structure. But what would happen if the FFA turned around and said No, we are not changing anything.

        What do you mean all tip and no iceberg. The EPL is full pyramid of at least 3 professional tiers and about 3 semi-pro. Arguably the most successfully run league in the world. The A-league on the other hand.

        • August 10th 2017 @ 8:54am
          chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          The EPL cares about the EPL full stop. Its hugely successful and generates lots of money for the owners. I dont know how much filters down to the grassroots but I’m pretty sure not much.
          I dont want to see a total disconnect of the A-League and grass roots/FFA but that is exactly what will happen if the owners have their way completely.

          • August 10th 2017 @ 10:16am
            League table speaks said | August 10th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

            The aleague is already fully disconnected from grassroots leagues. This is the point. Its anti football.

            The English system on the other hand is fully connected down the tiers via a football pyramid.

            • August 10th 2017 @ 10:29am
              chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

              Well its not totally disconnected purely based on the fact that the FFA control the A-League and the FFA have a duty to grow the game.
              Do you really want to see the revenues that the A-League generate diverted from grass roots football?

              • August 10th 2017 @ 10:31am
                chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

                …and this belief in the EPL/pyramid doesnt seem to be shared by many close to the English game. They are constantly be-moaning the death of locally produced talent in the EPL.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 10:49am
                RBBAnonymous said | August 10th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

                Their local players are a lot more talented than what the A-league produces. Even won the latest u20 World Cup. Must be doing something right.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 10:57am
                League table speaks said | August 10th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

                “purely based on the fact that the FFA control the A-League and the FFA have a duty to grow the game.”

                Meanwhile the gfa controlled aleague sits totally disconnected from grassroots leagues in its own closed league system.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 11:29am
                League table speaks said | August 10th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report


              • August 10th 2017 @ 11:58am
                chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 11:58am | ! Report

                Well there is talk that Sydney FC and WSW want to put teams in the NPL for next season. in NSW. I know there is a desire for this in the women’s.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 12:07pm
                League table speaks said | August 10th 2017 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

                Okey doke. 🙂

              • August 10th 2017 @ 12:08pm
                Nemesis said | August 10th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

                “Well there is talk that Sydney FC and WSW want to put teams in the NPL for next season. in NSW. I know there is a desire for this in the women’s.”

                What do you mean? Syd & WSW already have teams playing NPL NSW. SydFC are in Div1 (they were Div2 last year & got promoted but look like they’ll go straight back down) & WSW are in Div2.

                MVFC & City have teams playing NPL VIC (Div 2). MV was promoted to Div1 last season, but got relegated back to Div2.

                I think this is same with all Aussie based ALeague teams.

                They have a team in the Senior NPL in their state, but ALeague clubs can only field u20 age players in the senior team.

                Plus, they have a team in the u20 NPL competition, but ALeague clubs can only field u17 players in this u20 team.

                Seems to be working well. Full season competition against adult opponents.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 12:21pm
                chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

                They don’t have teams in the women’s NPL in NSW. They only play W-League.
                So not sure why the suggestion that these clubs have no connection with grass roots.

            • August 10th 2017 @ 12:23pm
              chris said | August 10th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

              Should have said NSW PL. Not NPL.

            • August 10th 2017 @ 3:57pm
              Ken Spacey said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

              Yet the connection between the HAL and the semi pro W-League has produced fabulous results. The FFA Cup has been largely a success and has no obvious example in other sports in oz. Several HAL clubs just held matches at NPL venues giving hose clubs revenue and the venue exposure. its up to the NPL clubs to make use of that.How is that a disconnect? Super Rugby is taking from grass roots. The Crows are flying and even after they and Port both ran teams in the SANFL, the crowds in that traditionally strong League have never been lower. This is a fact of life in Oz, big pro leagues and much smaller second tiers.

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