David Gallop the CEO of the Football Federation of Australia today gave what was billed as his “State of the Game Address.” The press conference was streamed on the internet courtesy of SBS, however it frustratingly frequently stalled and segments were missed.
Gallop, like many modern-day sports administrators is the consummate politician. He is great on rhetoric, although he did not look as composed and confident talking as he did in his previous role with the National Rugby League.
Mr Gallop opened by saying “Everywhere you look at the moment you can see that Australian football is enjoying a golden period.” There are many around the game who will have switched off at that point as the game is in truth far from being in a ‘Golden period.’ The national team showed patches of potential at the World Cup, but lost every game and conceded the equal most goals, our youth national teams continue to struggle at international tournaments. Australia has the least number of players playing top flight football overseas for over 15 years, Despite the performances of Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar many will say the A-League has stalled as a competition, and bringing in high profile players well past their prime is simply a band-aid; the same band aid the current Chairman of the FFA used and which failed in the old NSL. Then the much heralded FFA Cup has cost many teams outside the top echelons privileged to take part, money that they cannot afford.
On the FFA Cup Mr Gallop stated “we’re seeing the connection between all tiers of our game come to life, it’s closer and more productive than ever before.” It would have been nice had he expanded on how this is so. With games being moved away from NPL side’s grounds and no compensation being paid how can it be more productive? Being a part of the FFA Cup has actually hurt many clubs around the country. If he is not aware of that as the head of the game then that is a major concern.
“Our game is inclusive, accessible, multicultural and international.” Mr Gallop said yet the FFA have just stopped any newly created team being allowed to have a badge or a name that is linked to an overseas culture? The Pararoos -the Paralympic football team – lost their Government funding, and yet the FFA has not stepped forward to pick that up, and word is did little to assist in obtaining the funding, with the focus mainly on keeping the funding for the able-bodied youth representative teams. Why was the ten-year Aboriginal program abandoned once the World Cup bid was lost, and only reinstated due to the work of Warren Mundine, John Moriarty and the Norther Territory Government. Yet we are to believe the game is inclusive and multicultural?
One comment that was on the money was when Mr Gallop said that “it’s fair to say the game’s governance structures have been a work-in-progress since the reform process of the Crawford report in 2003 and the inauguration of the FFA under the leadership of Frank Lowy in 2004.” Why is it ten years on that none of the state bodies are full members of the FFA? Why ten years down the track are the constitutions and election processes in each state different? Surely these are basic administrative issues that Mr Lowy and his team should have addressed; especially the last one as FIFA advised the FFA that this needed to be addressed if their World Cup bid was to be successful. One issue that needs to be addressed is election to the board of the FFA, with none of the “Associate” Member state bodies having a vote or a say.
This new “National Plan” is to be drafted by Mr Gallop’s team at the FFA along with “external help” and he said that an external strategic company would be employed. He talked of “unity of purpose,” which sounds great, yet the purpose at all levels of the game is so different, and until the FFA grasps and understands those purposes at every level, such a plan will struggle to succeed. Mr Gallop said that in the first phase of this plan the FFA would “listen” to the game’s stakeholders; this is a key, and it is vital they listen to those who are most vocal against their plans, not just those who happily nod and tow the line. He said they will “consult” with individual participants. That will be interesting, as to consult means that you will “seek advice” and “do one’s best in the interest of that person.” If this is in fact the case these are very positive signs, but sadly we have heard it all before.
Just two years ago Gallop’s predecessor Ben Buckley unveiled his four pillars strategic plan for football in Australia. He too trotted out the same statistics that Mr Gallop did – check and it is scary how similar their build up to the plans are! Mr Buckley said that his third pillar was “all about connecting with the grassroots.” He went on to state that “if we build loyalty with our grassroots community and provide them with support or benefits that are valued” then the game will be the winner. Two years on have grassroots clubs seen that support and what benefits have then had? Mr Buckley also promised “we will deliver benefits to all tiers.” Many are still waiting to see those benefits.
Like his predecessor Mr Gallop is not a football man, and putting a scarf around his neck and cheering on the Socceroos is not going to transform him into one. He is however a good administrator. He is a man who can take the game forward. Yet if he wants to garner the support of football fans across the country he needs to genuinely engage them. Today sadly Mr Gallop’s address was all words and spin, never once did he discuss the costs that come with as he said “The burden of opportunity” in the game, although he did concede that “We don’t always have the capital, the resources and the structures to harvest the opportunity.” So how are you going to source these funds? These are the questions most football lovers want to hear answered.
It is great to talk about plans, but how are you going to implement them, are you truly going to engage the stakeholders,get out there and see the problems junior and senior clubs face, and listen and take on board those issues and try and address them? Tell us where the money is going to come from to implement the components of the plan, who will pay, what will be the additional cost to parents whose children play the game, or to clubs who host those players? This is what people want to hear, hard cold facts.
Ten years on it is time these fundamental facts were addressed. We all want to see the Socceroos and Matildas do well, just as we want the A-League to succeed, but at the moment the lower tiers are being strangled financially. The talk we have heard before – two years ago in fact – and as for the words put down in the future National Plan, they will be just words, unless they are backed up with costs and support from all following a proper consolation process.
With the ‘National Plan’ due to be published in mid 2015, it is time now for Mr Gallop and his team’s actions to speak.