Often in the role of a sports administrator you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t on certain issues. The reason being that sport brings out people’s emotions, because usually attached to those emotions are years of history and tradition. If as an administrator you fail to understand that depth of feeling you are always going to find your task that much harder.
On Tuesday of this week Football West announced the successful teams that would participate in the new National Premier Leagues, competition, and once again the game’s governing body in the West has brought criticism upon itself. However on this occasion one has to feel some sympathy, as to all intents as purposes they tried to go about this process in a way that would avoid or at least limit criticism.
First of all let us realise that this re-vamped competition is being forced on state bodies around Australia by the overarching administrator, The FFA, to satisfy promises made to the Asian Football Confederation when they switched to their confederation from Oceania. The FFA have let their state bodies down badly, by simply telling them to introduce the NPL and allowing the criteria to be different in each state, as long as it is implemented by 2014.
There were many issues that left the NPL process in Western Australia flawed. The biggest was the overall communication of the concept and the bullying tactics used to try and force clubs to become involved in something that had very little substance to it. The application document was flakey, and the decision to talk to clubs individually rather than give clear and specific answers to concerns publicly was a foolish one, as it built up more mistrust than already existed. Sadly on many of the issues it is fair to say that Football West did not them selves know the answers; in which case why put these points in the document?
The Football Community were told that this was going to be a new league that would change Football in this state, it was being heralded as ‘a new dawn’ for the game, yet the expectations placed on clubs was going to come at a cost. Only when the clubs did unite as a group – which Football West chose to ignore – did they realise that maybe they needed to revise their initial approach, as feelings were running high. At this point in time there were many unsavoury tactics used ensure that Football West was able to deliver the NPL as promised to the FFA by 2014.
The FFA had already completed a document to be submitted to the AFC stating that Western Australia were on board prior to the NPL deadline. Had the clubs held out it would have brought a great deal of embarrassment to Football West and the FFA. In the end fear led the clubs to ultimately submit applications; fear and mistrust amongst themselves. The back-track saw every current state premier league club retained in the NPL with the exception of Bunbury who were replaced by another metropolitan club in Subiaco.
What happened to the initial goal of taking the game to outer metropolitan areas, which was being promoted when the NPL was first put on the table? What about the wonderful work done in the South West by their football administrators? Why with a new stadium approved and due to be built were they thrown out? The South West has been a hot bed of talent over the years but now they have been unceremoniously cast aside. One can be sure though that Football West will continue to use Perth Glory’s Josh Risdon as a pin up boy for their development programs. Where does he hail from? Bunbury.
Football West had a chance to change the game, but when it came to it they bottled out. Why? For fear of the backlash, and because they did not bring in independent football people with knowledge of the game in Western Australia to assess the applications. Board members were the wrong people to be assessing the applications, it needed independent people respected by the football community to judge each application. Then the board should have been the ones to rubber-stamp those recommendations.
The document on which the applications were submitted left too many questions unanswered, which in turn opened Football West up for challenges had they made the changes they initially heralded. The mere fact that in the last weeks before the application deadline, compulsory criteria required was becoming flexible signalled trouble. Sadly it was an ill-conceived and flawed process from the start.
Finally one has to ask if the NPL is to be the start of a new era for football in Western Australia why was the news of the teams to make up the new league only released via a press release? Why was there not a press conference to announce such a key moment in the games history? Would other codes have made such an announcement so meekly? The truth is Football West did not want to face public questioning, especially with no clear criteria on which clubs acceptance was based, justification of the decisions would have been hard.
Football West ‘stared down’ the Football Union as advised to do so by FFA CEO David Gallop in order to push the NPL through, but the mere fact that the Football Union was created made them realise through that caution was required and that is the reason we have seen so little change to the league’s make up.
Now there is a Players Association formed to stand up to proposed changes they wish to implement which Not the Footy Show has been advised will not stand up under employment law. The players will be stronger than the clubs were, as they are individuals rather than voices with members and fans, so the same tactics used to weaken the Football Union will not work.
It is time to start listening and working together. Football is meant to be about bringing people together, and enjoyment, it is not about dictating how things should be done and penalties imposed if you don’t follow that path. Where there is so much feeling, dictating the way things must be done never works. It is worth remembering that even in the former communist societies football was one of the few place where freedom of expression was allowed. We are fortunate that we do not operate under such a regime, but we should never lose sight of what it is about the game that brings us joy. It is the players who can do things others can’t do, moment’s of magic, not everyone doing the same thing in an automated and controlled way. Who will pay to see that?