Arbib, Our Game, Amen! (so be it)

Yesterday Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib announced that football in Australia will undergo a full review in the lead-up to the 2015 Asian Cup, the question is how deep will this review delve and what will it uncover? If it uncovers a few nasties will the Government have the power to ensure that these issues are fixed, set a timeline for them to be fixed and monitor them?

Chair of the Australian Sports Commission, Hon Warwick Smith AM, has been asked to conduct the review, and it is expected to take between four to five months for him to complete.

Mr Arbib has been quoted as saying that the review: “Will assess the structure, governance and administration of football in Australia, examine the development of its positioning for the Asian Cup and identify key opportunities to ensure the financial viability and sustainability of football in Australia. It will be conducted in conjunction with, and with the support of, the FFA.”

This is on the surface good news for many concerned with the way the game is heading. This will be the first review into the game since the Crawford Report in 2003. This brought about major change to the game, but slowly over time many of the recommendations have been ignored or allowed to no longer be effective.

As in the “bad old days” many who feel that they can make a quick buck from the game have managed to manoeuvre their way into various positions to the detriment of the game itself. That may explain why it feels as if below the elite level the game is once again stagnating and not fulfilling its potential.

Ever since John O’Neill was appointed CEO the focus has been very heavily on the Socceroos and World Cup Qualification. That is all well and good as this brings with it immense media coverage, but you have to have the foundations right to be able to build on that success. Using the Football West annual report as an example it highlights a failure to capitalise on this success with participation numbers hardly increasing at all in a World Cup year.

The Matildas success has not garnered as much media coverage yet amazingly the growth of the women’s game nationally is around 51%.

There is no doubt the game has come a long way in a short space of time, but the focus has to be now the long term future of the game, and that means employing experts to key roles and keeping them. The FFA has had a revolving door in so key areas with three or more staff filling key roles in the past seven years; some of these jumping on the football bandwagon to further their own careers. This certainly doesn’t help the game.

It is vital that the Honourable Mr Smith talk to all levels of the game in all corners of the country just as Mr. Crawford did. Change is needed to take the game to the next chapter in its history, and once again people need to be open to this, a failure to do so will see the game regress once again.

The PFA have already stated that there are unresolved fundamental issues in Australian football, which include the following:

1. The spending and distribution of the game’s revenues to maximise their benefit
2. The location of A-League clubs and the stadia in which they play which will best benefit all parties
3. The development of a confident football culture.
4. The relationship between the A-League and the underlying competition structures.
5.  The alignment of the A-League clubs with the football communities they are designed to serve.
6.  The relationship between the professional and the amateur games.
7. The high fees charged to registered participants.

Points four, five and six are closely aligned and this needs to be explored, as with clubs in the hands of private owners, there is a lack of trust and a gulf in some communities between the professional club and the amateur or semi-pro clubs. The owners also feeling that they have to spend money doing what the FFA should be doing. There has to be a stronger community engagement for this to work, after all the game belongs to the people, that is why it is the most played game in the world. As long as The Honourable Mr Smith talks to all levels of the game this review could be just what the game needs.

Arbib, Our Game, Amen! (so be it)
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