FFA and FIFA Face Off

The wheels in sports administration move very slowly when they are asked to take action, but those under their control are expected to jump when the administrators come calling.

It would appear that the Football Federation of Australia may well have over-estimated their position in the World of Football. Maybe the Chairman Steven Lowy thought that the family business Westfield, and the billions of dollars attached to the business would help smooth things. A powerful company with powerful contacts, but it appears that the Football Federation of Australia may well be used as an example to others for Associations who do not tow the FIFA line.

The FFA has failed to meet the March 31 deadline set by FIFA and the AFC to form a new and more inclusive congress. The A-League clubs are chasing six votes on a refashioned 17-strong congress, while the players’ union, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) are seeking two votes. Currently the 10 A-League clubs, receive only one of the 10 votes to elect the FFA board, and the state bodies, who are in truth simply branches of the FFA’s administration hold nine votes.

It is understood that the FFA has requested an extension on the changes until its annual general meeting which is not due to be held until November 2017. This would appear to be stretching an extension to an unreasonable length of time. The clubs, NPL and A-League want reform, FIFA want reform, the only people pushing against it are those charged with administering the game. To many on the outside it appears as if football is headed down the same path it went in the 1980’s.That once in power those with the power cease to listen and fail to see what those who support the game want.

The current structure is tilted very much in favour of those already in control. The FFA’s state bodies hold the balance of power in their hands with so many votes. Many of those doing the voting are rewarded by the FFA for their support with free tickets to Socceroos games across the country and are wined and dined in VIP boxes, they have also been allocated tickets to the World Cup finals. Actions that are very reminiscent of FIFA rewarding those who voted the way they wanted, the FFA has managed to continually keep control and have elected to the board it’s ‘own people.’The same processes have cascaded down to State level too with Standing Committee Chairs and Zone Reps votes being influenced by free tickets to dinners and key events as well as access to hospitality suites.

Ironically FIFA is concerned about the democratic process in Australia. They fear that the game is not being run along democratic lines. The professional players, clubs and other stakeholders haven’t been given a voice, even though it’s required through FIFA’s regulations.

It is abundantly clear as to why the FFA do not want to agree to give the A-League clubs a voice. If given that voice and along with it the power to instigate change, there is a very real likelihood that the A-League competition will end up being run independently of the FFA, like the EPL in England and the Bundesliga in Germany. This would cause a major headache to the FFA as the A-League generates over three-quarters of the FFA’s revenue. Yet as the FFA looked to attract foreign investors to the A-League clubs, these foreign investors wanted to have more control over their investments.

David Gallop, CEO of the FFA has tried to explain their stalling, by explaining that “the A-League clubs in Australia are not ‘clubs’ in the more traditional European or South American sense. They are all privately owned … and as such are ‘for-profit’ entities whose objective … is to act in the interests of their shareholders and not act in the interests of the game of football in Australia as a whole.”

FIFA can now step in and take control of the FFA as reported by The World Game, yet many feel this is unlikely. A few months ago FIFA confirmed their stance that “promotion and relegation is of fundamental importance to FIFA”. They also made a point that is key in the argument put forward by A-League clubs who do not want relegation, that in all A-League clubs’ licensing it is stated that clubs will continue participation regardless of a promotion and relegation system implemented by the FFA.

If relegation and promotion is created then it will mean that FIFA would be moving to ignore the exclusionary precedent that they set for Australia and the USA in the 2008 Congress. The ruling at that Congress states that “Results on the pitch decide whether a club goes up or down a level in every championship around the world except in the United States and Australia, where there are ‘closed’ leagues.”

(This is worth noting in the NPL in Western Australia which is governed under FIFA regulations).

What is interesting to note here is that it understood that one of the conditions of Australia being admitted into the Asian Football Confederation was that by 2013 they would have a cup competition and promotion and relegation. When this did not happen, an Asian Champions League place was under threat, and that was why the FFA Cup was rushed through, and so too the National Premier Leagues competition which was pitched to AFC as a competition “Underpinning” the A-League. Maybe the realisation that the NPL is nothing close to what it was purported to be has resulted in the AFC combining with FIFA to tighten the screws on the FFA.

Another country that will be looking at how this plays out will be the USA, as if FIFA do force Australia to create a second tier with promotion and relegation, then the Major League Soccer competition may also have to change, as then it would be the stand alone league without promotion and relegation.

The Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), who are the united body representing the 104 National Premier League (NPL) will be waiting to see what FIFA decides in light of the deadline being missed. They are not only seeking to have the National Premier Leagues being officially recognised as a genuine second division to the A-league, with promotion to the A-League available for the clubs, but they too would like a seat at the table when it comes to voting at the FFA Congress.

If this happens will such reform filter down to the State level and will we see the clubs wishing to have more representative votes via their Standing Committees and the Zone rep positions abolished? The clubs may then feel that they then have more control over reform and the voting in of Board members. Currently many feel aggrieved that they have never heard from their Zone reps and do not even know who they are, and therefore question whether their vote is representative.

Will FIFA make the bold step of stepping in and taking control of the game from FFA chairman Steven Lowy and CEO David Gallop?

People are looking at the fact that FIFA appointed a normalisation Committee to take control of the Argentina Football Association in 2016 as an indication that they may take control of the FFA. The difference was the Argentina Association was accused of financial mismanagement of match broadcasting funds, with President of the Association Luis Segura being charged with fraudulent administration.

The FFA has not been accused of fraudulent behaviour, however their Governance is being called into question and the structure of the game; and possibly not keeping promises made to the AFC. One would therefore expect FIFA to demand a meeting to be held by a certain deadline and warn the FFA of the consequences of failing to comply, which could see the International teams suspended.

No doubt all will become clear in the very near future.

FFA and FIFA Face Off

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