When you read a headline such as ‘It’s all on the table: FFA boss foreshadows change’, you realise just how different football may look in a few months’ time when, hopefully, people are permitted to play the game once again.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran that headline on Friday and respected football writer Michael Lynch quoted James Johnson’s words that appeared in a podcast on FFA’s official Twitter account.
To state the obvious, Johnson is one of millions of people charged with overseeing businesses, organisations and governing bodies who has no certain read on the continuing timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nor does he know whether the climax of it has already been reached or whether the body he controls will even exist when this madness is all over.
That is the cold, hard reality of just how potentially damaging the situation around the globe is and it will be the task of FFA to navigate the post-COVID period in Australian football.
Inevitably, sacrifices will be made. Rumours are already circling that the W-League may well be a casualty of the pandemic and it is almost impossible to see even an abbreviated version of the FFA Cup competition being played in 2020-21. The schedule falls further and further behind as each day passes.
The Socceroos’ important World Cup qualifiers look likely to now be played very late in 2020 at best, with international travel and players traversing the globe too soon the dopiest thing that could be done in an effort to get the game up and running.
How FIFA manages that problematic situation is yet to be seen, however, the last thing required in Europe and North America at this point is a loosening of border control that sees COVID-19 take hold even further.
When the new international scheduling is done, FFA may well be reluctant and/or unable to invest in warm-up or practise matches for the Socceroos squad. Much the same will apply to FFA’s plan for the Matildas, as they enter a vital period where rebuilding a squad to challenge at the World Cup of 2023 is paramount.
Needless to say, as one of the five bidders for the event, along with Brazil, Colombia and Japan, the Australia/New Zealand effort may well be completely derailed depending on the financial realities that present themselves, once the pandemic has passed.
In fact, the decision to withdraw from the running may be a gut-wrenching one that FFA, in consultation with its Trans-Tasman counterparts, has to make well before the expected June 2020 announcement of the winning bid.
With no professional football played for some time, the FFA hoping to receive its next payment from the A-League host broadcaster and Fox Sports laying off more and more staff; desperate to keep its own head above water, just how much cash will be left in the coffers of the governing body is unsure.
It would be a wonderful initiative to hold a nation-wide telethon or charity concert to raise money for the beautiful game; to inject some funds and enable it to rebound more quickly. It is a nice idea, except for the simple fact that every other sport, sector of business, government and industry would be thinking and deserved of the same.
The financial effect of the coronavirus may well take near a decade to be fully overcome. Australia, like most countries, will be balance-sheet broke. It stands to reason that the same will be said of the businesses and bodies that fall underneath a government, one that will be asked for handouts by all.
With history in mind, as well as the Prime Minister’s love of a certain rough and tumble code and the always-influential AFL, it is hard to picture a stunning and generous financial stimulus provided for FFA to use as it sees fit.
Thus, A-League football in Australia will take a few backward steps when it comes to professionalism. Wages, many already held back, will be reduced for 2020-21, the National Premier League will look ever more like the top tier and the W-League faces a scary six months, hoping for a season at all.
No one takes the blame on this one. While casual racism may be attempting to do so, the global village is now on full display and the pandemic that many predicted, has eventually arrived.
It has destroyed people, families and cities. No doubt it will also destroy a few sports. Let’s hope football can buck the trend and survive.