A Chance to Be Heard, and to Influence the Future

Leadership comes from the top; but influence comes from those who in engage in what is happening.

For decades the football community had complained that they had no say in the way that the game was being run, and they were right. The old governance model saw one or two individuals wield an unbelievable amount of power and influence. This was why the likes of the late Johnny Warren pushed for reform.

That reform was borne out of the Crawford Report. Yet for the football community to benefit from this reform they needed to engage and ensure that their voices were heard. As was the case under the many guises that ran the game before, the new regime has seen many sheep appointed to committees, who simply follow the lead they are told to follow.

Every person who is elected to any committee or board has a responsibility to the game. There were some key people who fought very hard for you that privilege, some had their tyres slashed repeatedly whenever they watched their son play junior football, some even received death threats. That was how much some people did not want to see the game reformed. One has to ask why? Are the benefits of being at the top of Australia’s most participated sport that great?

When you hear how much some people gave for the sake of the game, it should make those charged with representing the masses be more responsible in their decision making and take more care in reaching decisions that could have a long term influence on the game.

Last week we ran a piece on the State League Standing Committee in Western Australia (And the Nominations Are…Non-Existant) Many may have felt that their role is a minor one, yet when you look at the bigger picture, the roles of the Standing Committees is in fact a far reaching one. It is after all the Standing Committees who appoint members to the Board of the State Body. The Chairman then has a vote when it comes to the FFA Board.

It is believed that in November the FFA will appoint a new Chairman of its board, with current incumbent Frank Lowy stepping aside having reached the end of his term in office. It has been widely reported that Mr Lowy’s son, Steven is the most likely to take over the role. Also coming onto the board are expected to be banker Kelly Bayer Rosmarin and another unnamed banker to replace Lowy supporters Phil Wolanski and Brian Schwartz. The two new candidates are believed to have been hand picked by the outgoing Chairman.

Some of the State Bodies who have a vote in who will replace Frank Lowy as Chairman have aired their disapproval that a candidate is being forced upon them. Yet the problem is they have not found a suitable candidate as yet to stand against these people. If they wish to make this an election in which their voices are heard far more than they have been under Frank Lowy’s tenure, then they and the A-League owners need to find some candidates quickly.

Lowy has been autocratic in his role as Chairman and some would say that he was precisely what the game needed. Others feel he has been a little dictatorial in the latter stages of his term in office, and some of his non-negotiables have in fact been detrimental. For example his presenting of the World Cup bid was more than foolish, and can have been a decision only based on ego.

To have another Lowy take the reins does not seem prudent. Even though he is his own man, one has to say that there will always be questions asked as to how much the outgoing Lowy will still be pulling the strings. Football needs to be above such accusations.

What is scary is that in the ten years that Frank Lowy has been at the helm, and board members at the FFA have come and gone, not once have the State Bodies or the A-League owners tabled a candidate of their own. Bearing this situation in mind do they have a right to moan quite so loudly about the decisions made?

In the Weekend Australian Ray Gatt summed up the situation perfectly when he wrote “The sport needs accountability more than ever these days. The stakeholders need to show some gumption and not be “yes” men, cowering in the corner afraid to open their mouths.” This applies to all representatives at every level.

This election could be the biggest decision in football, and could have a massive impact on the game for the next ten years. Anyone involved in the game, at any level, will tell you that all is not well. Things are better than they were, but they are far from being in a strong situation.

There are some who focus on the elite side of the game, and the Matildas and the Socceroos are performing well, yet the disparity in investment and player payments is an insult to the Matildas. The trouble with the Matildas is the FFA cannot lose. They spend a minimum amount on a talented and determined group of players. This group perform well and the FFA take all the credit. They also then justify their current expenditure. Yet had they invested more, this group could have achieved so much more.

The A-League is far from perfect, there are ownership issues, crowd issues, and now player issues with the PFA. Yet more concerning to many is the fact that the gulf between the top paid players at A-League clubs and the lesser known players is widening. Clubs are investing in a handful of experienced players with pedigree and skimping on young talent, hoping that the senior players will pull them through. Clubs are also taking less risks with younger players, now simply recycling fringe players released by other A-League clubs.

Some would say that the reason for this is that the competitions “underpinning” – the FFA love this word- the A-League is not up to scratch. Certainly in  Western Australia the NPL has been a disaster. It has proved that you cannot try and combine development with a legitimate competition, you kill the quality of the game.

The one failing in Lowy’s tenure as Chairman is he has tried to build the game from the top down. All of the money earned from World Cup campaigns has been invested in the players that achieved that goal and back into the highest level. Nothing, or very little by comparison, has been invested into the grassroots levels of the game. If Australia wants to keep qualifying for World Cups, there must be investment at state level, or the game will find itself back where it was before the FFA was born, gambling every four years on World Cup qualification to support itself.

Truthfully, Holger Osciek did well to achieve World Cup qualification in 2014. Ange Postecoglou has certainly infused the team with a better playing style, but without wanting to play down his achievements there has to be a tinge of realism. Firstly Australia conceded three games in every match it played in Brazil, only Cameroon of the 32 teams competing at the Finals matched that record in their three group games. Secondly not one of the teams from Asia progressed out of their group. So how good is the standard of football in Asia in world terms? Could it be that maybe some people are getting a little ahead of where the game really is, and how good Australia really is?

There are plenty of issues that need to be addressed and not just at the top of the game. The Chairman of every State Body, or his nominee has a vote at the FFA elections along with the A-League owners. If there are no other candidates put forward then they will have no need to vote, as all of the candidates will be elected unopposed. Is it time for other candidates to be put forward? If so can the State bodies work together and nominate suitably qualified people? Can our so-called well-connected high-flying A-League owners find a suitable candidate from all of their business contacts?

Even if they were able to do this and there was a choice, how many of the Chairs of the various State Bodies would then consult with the representatives of the game, the Standing Committees within their state and vote as instructed by them, as was the recommendation in the Crawford report?

David Crawford acknowledged that the game, played by so many, was being run and influenced by a few. He gave the power to the players, coaches and clubs via the Standing Committees. Yet sadly in many cases those charged with using that power have failed to do so.

The Standing Committees have the power to influence the Board or simply vote them out if they feel they are not doing what is expected. Similarly they have the power to tell the board who to vote for in the FFA elections, and again if the Chair opts to ignore their wishes they can call an Extraordinary meeting and remove them from office.

This is the most important election in Australian football for a very long time and it is to be hoped that the Chairpersons of State Bodies around the country find candidates that they can put forward to challenge more of Lowy’s men coming in and also the stewardship of Steven Lowy. Following that it is vital for the future of the game, that the much talked about members of the Football Family are given as much information as possible in order to have a say as to how their state body votes.

Will any of this happen? It is extremely unlikely. There are however many who live in hope…

A Chance to Be Heard, and to Influence the Future
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