Last week the FFA revealed its plans for the National Premier Leagues, something that had previously been given the name the Australian Premier League.
There is a great deal in the document that is good for the game but there is also a great deal that appears to have not been thought through thoroughly.
The National Premier Leagues will replace all of the current State Premier Leagues, and will ‘underpin the Hyundai A League.’ Do the state leagues not already do that, by feeding talented players into A League clubs, for very little reward and often late compensation payments?
The aim according to the document released last week is ‘to create consistency across the State Premier Leagues, raise(s) standards in club management, whilst encouraging a greater focus on youth.’ Most involved with the game would applaud such moves and would agree wholeheartedly that such an approach can only benefit the game as a whole, however some serious questions have to be asked before this is pushed through and accepted.
The first is should not the FFA be looking – as per FIFA’s request when the World Cup bid was alive – to have each state federation being run along exactly the same lines and with the same constitutions before trying to implement such a radical change to the playing side of the game? Once Australia’s World Cup Bid, this move to standardise Australia’s football administration was shelved. If there is not a uniformity in the way that the game is being run across the country then such a league is doomed to fail. You are after all only as strong as your weakest link, and if one state body choses to do something differently or a dispute arises then the whole league will crumble. The game itself is not in as bad a state as many would like to claim, but administratively, and that goes from the FFA down to many of the semi professional clubs there is room for a great deal of improvement. There is room for structure and support, two vital components of any structurally sound business. Unless the FFA move to make all of the State bodies be run under the same rules and structures the National Premier League should be shelved.
Why are the FFA so keen to push the National Premier League Competition through and force it upon all the clubs playing in Premier Leagues around the country. The answer is simple, it is based on a promise that was made to the Asian Football Confederation when Australia joined. Ultimately the National Premier Leagues are being put in place to satisfy the AFC that there is a league below the Hyundai A League and eventually – as originally requested by the AFC – A league sides could find themselves facing the prospect of relegation and being replaced by the team that wins the national Premier League competition, this will be determined by the team that wins the national play off between the club champions around Australia. Quite how this is going to work and how a semi-professional club is going to move from being semi professional to full time is going to be very interesting, although it is believed that some key clubs may well be approached to breakaway from their state Premier leagues and play in a second tier competition.
Also promised was a national cup competition and most fans around the country would welcome such a competition, having had the carrot dangled a few years ago little progress appears to have been made with this. Yet this would be probably easier to set up and run than a national Premier League
The biggest concern with this whole structure is where is the money going to come for clubs to implement many of the key requirements? For a start each semi professional club has to appoint a technical director, yet many of the Hyundai A League clubs do not employ anyone in that position. A League clubs do very little in the development of young players, and so the onus is now being shifted down to the semi-professional clubs, but that development comes at a cost in terms of equipment coaches training space etcetera, who is going to fund this?
A transparency of the financials of each club is required, yet privately owned Hyundai A League clubs who are virtually all run at a loss are not declared to the FFA, these accounts are the business of the private franchise owners. Many of the Semi Professional clubs around the country are businesses tied to sporting associations or run as a small business, why would they open their books to the game’s governing body when the same transparency is not available from the top of the game to them?
A National Premier League is an excellent idea but the foundations have to be put in place if this is to work, and currently we are trying to build something that is supposed to last for many years to come to a very tight time frame and with no solid foundation. If this progresses in the next two years purely to satisfy a promise that was made, it is doomed to fail. If football is unified administratively across the country and the appropriate funds allocated to such a competition, it could become one of the best second tier competitions in any sport in Australia, but it has to be done properly.