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In 2015, Football Federation Australia released the Whole of Football Plan (WoFP) — a 20-year blueprint for football in this country.
With FFA’s release of their 2018 Annual Review, it has been revealed that some of the most ambitious goals of the plan — thought to take decades to achieve — are already being realised.
The main goal of the 100+ page WoFP, according to FFA, is for football to become the ‘largest and most popular sport in Australia’. This ambition is threefold: it involves having more grassroots participants than any other code, having more fans than any other code and having world-class athletes.
In other words, the FFA want football to be bigger, better and more modern than any other game. In Australia, this means nurturing a national brand of the world game.
As David Gallop said, ‘Our best years are ahead of us’, and if the signs are anything to go by — with participation in football the highest it has ever been — parts of the WoFP’s goal have already been achieved. In 2017, FFA’s Annual Report confirmed, ‘Football is officially the largest club-based sport in Australia’. In 2018, football remains the nation’s leader in youth and club-based sports participation.
Statistically, this has been underpinned by a marked increase in football registrations, with an increase of over 300,000 club-based participants across the nation from 2015–2017. Amazingly, the bracket between codes has only widened to such a degree that, at the grassroots level, over half a million more participants play football than AFL, while more than twice as many are registered to play football than cricket.
In terms of potential, at this stage the future belongs to football.
However, in terms of attendance and fan involvement at professional fixtures in 2018, the day still resoundingly belongs to Australia’s traditional powerhouse — AFL. When considered in light of the figures surrounding registrations this is rather surprising.
Paradoxically, while the code’s club-based participation continues to decline, year by year its attendance at competitive games continues to rise. In fact, according to the AFL, attendances have never been higher.
This year’s records reached over 7.5 million in attendance across the 2018 season, which is five times that of the 2017–18 A-League season. Objectively the present belongs with their code.
The first two parameters for gauging FFA’s threefold ambition are unreservedly comparative, seeking to relate to, and then compete with, other sports across the country. These are completely domestic considerations. However, the final factor — whether Australia is producing excellent footballers — instead demands an international appraisal.
The seat of world-class football is certainly Europe, and in the current crop of elite Australian footballers only Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan and Mathew Leckie play regular football in any of the continent’s first divisions. As it stands, in reaching the highest level — regularly playing in one of Europe’s big four leagues — Australia is producing too few world-class footballers for the international market for us to be considered ‘world-class’.
However, one of the key pledges of the WoFP is that Australia will ‘strive for technical excellence’.
‘When we asked the football community what you wanted from the A-League, the most popular answer was the “best Australian players playing in Australia” — this must become a key objective,’ says FFA.
In the future, Australia will be sending even fewer players away to become world-class. Our country will be creating them on our shores.
The ambition then is twofold: Australia wants to create excellent footballers, which means that Australia will need to have excellent facilities and academies — a long-term objective. This is a factor that cannot be measured in the short term.
Although we cannot measure the success of a 20-year plan in the space of three years, the fact that we are already seeing drastic improvements — especially in terms of participation — in such a short space of time is an exciting sign for the future.
Moreover, with youth and development belonging to football and professional attendance to AFL, all signs point to a more harmonious coexistence between the dominant codes of Australian sport. Football will not be a usurper, and AFL will not cease to exist — the crowd figures point to the opposite.
However, AFL will not exert the same power in the future as it has in the present — not without a substantial rise in youth and club-based participation.
Nevertheless, even with our current pool of statistical data, which allows us to gaze through the looking glass, Australian football’s projections for the future could change. There are no certainties for the future.
What is certain, however, is that sport will exert more power over our everyday lives than ever before. As fans, these are exciting times.