Family Values

Ever since the Football Federation came into being they have pushed the phrase the “Football Family” down everyone throats, when at times it has felt far from a happy family.

Under the leadership of the former Chairman Frank Lowy no one was left in any doubt as to who the head of the family was. Few were brave enough to speak up, let alone challenge him.

Lowy was given more control than most Chairmen at the start of his tenure because Football needed to be given direction. A static board was appointed for the first four years to give the game stability. That iron grip on the tiller should have eased after those initial four years, as the game moved forward, but it didn’t. Then when the captain left the ship he put his son in charge. More worrying is the fact that those with the power to stop such nepotism simply raised their hands in favour, and let it happen.

“New Football” – another catchphrase from the FFA – was never meant to be this way.

Now it looks as like it is about to change but not at all in the way that it was intended, and the end result could have a devastating effect in the long term.

When the old Soccer Australia was disbanded as a result of the Government funded Crawford Report a number of recommendations as to the structure of the game were made. These recommendations were tabled to give everyone, in every corner of Australia who participated in the game, in its various forms, a voice. An even say in how the game was to be governed and the direction that it would take.

One of the recommendations of the Crawford report was that the new national competition should be a stand alone entity and not run by the game’s governing body. Frank Lowy felt differently and ignored the recommendation.

His reasoning may well have been that it would be easier at that time to package the game as a whole when trying to attract a television company to come on board as a media partner. If you wanted to broadcast football you had to buy The A-League and the Socceroos. At the time the Socceroos were hot property having just qualified for their first World Cup finals in 34 years and having progressed from their group.

So although his reasoning may have been sound at that time, he did not bank on events in the future. In the early seasons of the A-League owners came and went, and then too early expansion saw new clubs come in and then disappear from whence they came.Shades of the old NSL?

It was clear that running an A-League club successfully required a great deal of money, and even today very few of the clubs are actually operating in the black. Not surprisingly the men who have ploughed the money into these clubs want to have more say in the way the competition is run and how their money is spent and a bigger share of the television spoils.

Had the A-League been seperate from the FFA as Crawford recommended they would have had one voting member at the FFA table, who would represent their wishes and their complaints. As the A-League is not seperate and is the main competition bringing in most of the sponsorship dollars for the game, not surprisingly the A-League owners are saying they want a bigger say in the way the game is run. Ironically they are united in the wish to have more than one voice at the table, whereas the stand alone league would have had them united but only entitled to one voice and one vote.

They may well get their way, as the FFA has announced today, following meetings with FIFA in Zurich that they “will continue consultations with key stakeholders next week regarding the process to expand the membership of its Congress which would allow broader representation in the governance of the sport.”

However giving the A-League clubs larger representation in the governance of the sport will go against the recommendations of the Crawford Report and could in fact unravel many of the good things that have resulted from the sport.

The report recommended that all of the stakeholders around the country be given a voice; coaches, referees, women, futsal and the A-League.

The structure saw many of these sections of the game have Standing Committees in each state around the country. They became “the Members” in each state. In a similar system to the FFA structure, each of these Standing Committees were given one vote in order to determine who was elected to the board and how the game was run.

It is suspected that Crawford hoped that old differences that had dogged the sport would be put aside in this new structure and people would work as one to try and do what was best for the game as a whole. He no doubt expected that the Standing Committees would liaise between each other and compare issues, and if they found they had similar issues not only in their state, but across the country, they would stand united to fix the issue. Yet how often have standing committees in one state spoken to their counterparts in another? In fact in many cases they have not even spoken to each other in their own state.

To some this may not appear to be a big deal, but when you look at the way the game was supposed to be structured this is in fact a huge deal.

In all the months travelling around the country the Crawford report found and stated that “It is clear from the information made available to, and submissions received by the Committee that there is a need to implement changes that:
1 ensure the governing bodies are independent and capable of acting in the best interests of the sport as a whole
2 separate governance from day-to-day management by implementing an effective governance and management structure
3 ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to be heard, that is, change membership and voting structures at national and state levels”

You see when the Football Federation of Australia meet and voting is asked of the members there are nine state bodies who have a vote. Also at the table are the A-League clubs who have one vote. Crawford made it very clear that the State representatives “opinion represents football in that state.” But does it in reality?

With so many voices shouting at the governing body rather than one unified voice, to be fair to the representatives, it is hard for them to “represent football in that state” with any surety. Some would say that this disunity gives them the authority to push their own agenda, or as an arm of the FFA in each state, go along with what Big Brother puts forward.

It is interesting to note, how when it comes time to rotate the board members at FFA level, and also State level, a safety valve has been put in place which some may say allows the various boards to hand pick their fellow board members. Never was this more evident than last year when the Nominations Committee was set up by the FFA to decide who would sit on their board. Not surprisingly all of the four people that had been put forward by the board were elected.

The A-League clubs want to have more say, and once they get that they will undoubtedly want representation on the board. Yet they will have to beat the nominations committee to get it.

The suggested structure put forward by David Crawford was one that was built on a strong base. One where the everyday man on the street who plays the game had a voice, and had an avenue for that voice to be heard. It was then expected the state representatives would carry these messages from all corners of the country to the FFA’s head office and vote for what was best for the game as a whole. One suspects that Crawford also expected the A-League clubs to have closer relationships with the local game across the country. Not just in terms of sourcing players, but also in terms of governance. If the A-League clubs had their state representatives on board as an ally, and the various standing committees were united, it would take a brave State representative to go against those wishes, and word would come back if they voted against the Wishes of the majority in that state.

If an individual did go against those wishes, then the Standing Committees, “The Members” of the state body, would have the power to call an extraordinary meeting and remove that person from the role.

There is no doubt that the A-League clubs deserve to have a bigger say, but it would appear that there are only two outcomes possible and one could have a drastic impact on the structure of the game as a whole.

The first and most logical option is that the FFA relinquish control of the A-League and let the clubs run their own competition, as has happened in most countries around the world, and which is the set up that FIFA and the AFC prefers.

The second option is to try and hang onto the ‘golden goose’ just a little longer. The FFA instead opts to change the constitution to give the A-League more votes around the FFA table. IT seems simple but in the long term could have far reaching consequences.

If they take that option the FFA are in effect betraying football at every level below the A-League across the country. Most likely soon after this motion is passed we will see Victoria and/or New South Wales, as they did in the past, scramble for more voting rights, as they are the most populous states. Surely it is logical that they should have more votes than Tasmania, the Northern Territory or the ACT? Sound familiar?

If the FFA changes its constitution then surely it should re-assess the constitutions in each state across the nation? Will this set a precedent, and open the door for one of the Standing Committees, possibly the one that generates the most income for that State body to then demand that they too are given more voting rights at State level?

It is a tightrope that the FFA are walking. Frank Lowy created the situation by believing that he knew best. Now his son has to try keep everything balanced as he steers the game across the abyss on a fraying tightrope.

Surely the game cannot once again fall into the abyss?

Frank Lowy was the man who helped establish the National Soccer League back in 1977 he then walked away disillusioned by the politics of the sport 10 years later. The NSL was put to rest in 2004.Lowy returned to give it its last rites in 2003. Second time around he has established the A-League, and been forced to walk away after 12 years. He was hailed as a saviour. Yet as much as he is to be applauded for the profile he has given the game in those 12 years the jury is still out as to the overall state he has left the game in, and whether the foundations he laid will stand the test of time. HI son may well be required to reinforce the foundations sooner than he thought.

Family Values
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