Are The State Bodies Representing Everyone’s Best Interests?

The Board elections for the Football Federation of Australia next month have probably seen the most interest from the football community in the 11 years that the FFA have been in existence. Yet once again a lack of unity within the game looks like it will deliver an outcome that few appear to want.

Steven Lowy, the son of the current Chairman is almost assured of becoming the next chairman of Football Federation Australia. As a result, the A-League owners are far from happy.

Lowy is set to succeed his father as the game’s most powerful figure after he was announced as one of four candidates for only four vacancies on the FFA board. The terms of his father Frank Lowy, deputy chairman Brian Schwartz and Phil Wolanski all expire next month. While ex Socceroo and lawyer Peter Tredinnick, resigned from the board a month ago.

A number of the A-League franchises are furious that they were unable to put forward a candidate of their own. Their candidate being former Sydney Olympics boss Mal Hemmerling. The reason they failed in their bid to nominate Mr Hemmerling was it has been reported, because they could not secure a seconding vote from at least two of the state federations. Yet the FFA constitution states that they only need one as long as they have two proposers.

The state federations who of course report to the FFA, and have on several occasions been told in no uncertain terms what to do by the FFA, have on this occasion refused to support any candidate who did not go through a selection process controlled by FFA.

One has to question whether once again pressure came from above on the boards of the various State Bodies. It is amazing how the promise of tickets to games in VIP boxes can sway some people, not that we are saying that this happened.

It would appear that Mr Hemmerling would have been an ideal candidate for the board. He is an experienced sports administrator who was chairman of the NBL, ran the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, ran the F1 grand prix in Australia and importantly for the A-League owners actually owned a franchise, the Adelaide 36ers.

He certainly seems better qualified than the other candidates who were apparently head hunted after the FFA engaged – at what cost? – international headhunting firm Egon Zehnder to identify potential board members. Of Steven Lowy, Daniel Moulis, Crispin Murray and Ms Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, only Mr Moulis has any link with football, having represented Australia at senior and youth international level and played with Canberra City and Sydney Olympic. He also served as chairman of Canberra Cosmos and as a director of the Johnny Warren Football Foundation.Interestingly the backgrounds on these candidates was sent to the media but is not featured on the FFA’s own website.

Under the FFA Constitution, to stand for election candidates must be nominated by two proposers and a third seconder. According to the FFA press release “Each of the nine State and Territory Members of FFA acted in the capacity of proposer and/or seconder across one or more of the four nominations.”

This does not look good. Clubs and stakeholders around the country should be asking for explanations from their state boards as to how they reached the decisions they did. On what grounds did they feel that all of the head-hunted candidates were better than the case being put forward for Mr Hemmerling? Which states proposed whom and who was the seconder? These are very important things to know as a football community. As nominations must be made in writing signed by the proposers and seconder this should not be too hard to ascertain. The question is will the State Standing committees actually ask the key questions?

There are many around the country who already feel that Mr Lowy senior has, during his time as Chairman of the FFA, led Australian football down the same path as he did with the old National Soccer League, and once he departs the game will once again spiral downwards. Not as some feel because of his great leadership, but as a result of some of the decisions made during his tenure. Has the franchise model for A-League clubs been the right one? Has bringing in expensive ageing superstars to Australia and underwritten by the FFA really helped the profile of the A-League?

While Chairman of the FFA Frank Lowy’s company Westfield has sponsored the W-League, and now sponsors the FFA Cup. The company is also the naming rights sponsor of the Matildas; yet they still receive a pittance in terms of pay. This sponsorship appears very generous on the surface. It looks great that Westfield are so involved in the game, yet try finding out what any of these sponsorship deals are worth. Surely as the Chairman of the board transparency should have been at the forefront of Mr Lowy’s mind and his company should have been up front about the deals brokered. Will his son be more open as Chairman?

There are some lawyers who feel that the FFA and Mr Lowy were sailing close to the wind with this sponsorship as the FFA constitution states in relation to directors under section 10.17. subsection b (iii) that “they are free from any interest or relationship which could materially interfere with their ability to act in the best interests of FFA.” While sponsorship can be seen as being a benefit to the FFA, surely Mr Lowy also has an obligation to his shareholders at Westfield and therefore would ensure that his company got the best deal possible for them. How can he act in the best interests of both organisations and how will his son, who is after all Co-Chief Executive Officer of Westfield Corporation?

It is worth remembering that prior to the World cup in 2006 the Socceroos played an international match against Liechtenstein. The Australians were based in the Netherlands and played this game in Ulm in Germany as the main stadium in the principality of Liechentsein only holds just over 7500; the population is only just over 37,000. Their football team’s FIFA ranking was 124th in the World at the time when Australia’s was 42nd. It seemed a strange fixture as a warm up game.

Two years later in 2008 a U.S Senate panel accused the Westfield Group of setting up a secret Liechtenstein bank account to hide at least $68 million from tax collectors. They claimed that Lowy, founder of Westfield Group, the world’s biggest shopping mall owner, concealed assets with the help of bankers at LGT Group, where Lowy was one of the biggest clients. This the panel claimed in a 114-page report on abuse of overseas bank secrecy laws. Peter Lowy refused to give evidence to the U.S. Senate committee. His father Frank rejected the accusations and said that all the funds had been distributed for charitable purposes in Israel.

There is no proof that the two events are linked but it does seem a mighty big coincidence.

One would have felt the time was right after ten years to have the A-League owners and the State Bodies put forward their own candidates so that they actually have representation on the board. Surely they could have worked together on this?

Now we have to look at why they were unable to work together? Are the A-League clubs paying the price for the way they treat the State Leagues and their teams? Are the State Bodies being too easily pushed into a decision by big brother, the FFA? Whatever the reason it is a great shame that once again those involved in the game at decision making level appear to be making decisions for the wrong reasons and failing to have as positive an influence as they could on its future.

Are The State Bodies Representing Everyone’s Best Interests?

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