How does the saying go? Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
A couple of weekend’s ago the West Australian newspaper’s Senior Business Reporter Sean Smith penned a piece on Football West and the Board’s quest to create a State Football Centre, and what a public relations piece it turned out to be. Maybe Mr Smith is worried that redundancies may come knocking again at the West, and he needs to stay in with the top end of Town as this was a fluff piece at best.
For a start the story was published on the 17th of July and Mr Smith stated in his second paragraph, “having plucked former management consultant James Curtis out of left field as its new chief executive.” Mr Curtis was announced as CEO of Football West at the end of May 2016 and took his place at the helm of the organisation on July 01 2016, over a year before this article was written, so hardly a “new” chief executive.
Mr Smith then promoted each individual Board member. He did not touch on the fact that the constitution had to be changed at the last minute to allow the current Chair Liam Twigger to stand for a third term, nor the fact that the organisation has two years in a row failed to hold an Annual General Meeting in a calendar year which is a breach of the Corporations Act and is classed as a criminal act.
He did not even analyse the make up of the board and the duplication of skills. The composition of most Boards mirrors the organisation, in that it is important that you have Board members with the skills to oversee departments of the business. So it is essential that you have a legal expert as well as a financial expert, and usually someone from a marketing background. The current Board has two lawyers and a new member specialising in Corporate Affairs and three members from a Financial background. Some well versed in Business would say that is a very unbalanced Board in terms of skills.
Then Mr Smith continues on to back Football West’s push for a State Football Centre. He cleverly weaves words like “cramped” when describing his meeting with the CEO as being “around the corner from Football West’s cramped offices.” Is this man seriously lobbying on behalf of Football West?
He then regurgitates all of the statistics that Football West used to display on their website to try and support their argument for such a venture. Yet Mr Smith again misses an opportunity to ask a pertinent question in relation to these figures.
He quite rightly states that “Football retains the highest participation in WA sports, with 177,300 adults and children playing the game last year.” However he does not ask, even though he carries the same statistics in his article, why only 44,000 of those are registered with Football West?
This is a key figure in the article, and in Football West’s quest for a State Football Centre. It shows that Football West only oversee 24% of those playing the game in Western Australia. Not even half the people playing football in the state are registered with Football West. So why should the Government fund such a venture that the Liberal Government in their election promise said would cost $37million?
As for the offices that Mr Smith referred to as “cramped,” the Board approved the purchase of the current Lord Street offices, and staff moved into their much needed new home in July 2014. For the offices to be too small within three years of taking ownership of them does not look like great forward planning. Surely this raises questions as to the evaluations done when deciding on a suitable site and office?
The real kicker in the whole article, and maybe Mr Smith had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he quoted CEO James Curtis as saying, ““We build the SFC, it enables the sport to be sustainable, making us less reliant on government support.”
Well one would hope so! Surely the sport is not going to take $37million and still hold its hand out every year for financial support? If the Government gave football $37million to build this facility, one would hope that the sport would not receive any Government funding for a while and that monies would be given to other sports who are desperate for funding.
Mr Curtis is then quoted as saying he sees football in WA as “probably the best business model for achieving social change” Football West already do excellent work through their Culturally and Linguistically Diverse program as well as their disabilities programs, but it would be very interesting to hear more about the business model, and how that social change will be achieved. In all seriousness most of the “Football Family” would be very interested in hearing more about this and would probably lend their full support to such a program. Yet no details are given in the article, and none have been forthcoming from Football West.
The sad truth is despite the final quote from Mr Curtis,“We have been able to get the games on the park and we have a lot of highly satisfied people out there, but we haven’t necessarily lifted it to the level where we need to take it, we are going to have to get the sport the respect and support it needs,” is that in pushing for a State Football Centre many feel that the Board are taking the game down the wrong path.
One of the key areas that needs attention and quickly is junior football and making the game more affordable for kids. Football has never been a game played only by those who can afford it, but that is what it has become. Football West need to find a way to fund grassroots football or find the funds to help subsidise clubs running grassroots programs. Too many talented youngsters are being forced to turn their back on the game purely due to cost. Returning to the figures quoted, how many of the 76% playing the game and not registered with Football West are not registered simply because the costs are too high?
Another area that needs immediate attention, is the state of grounds and changing facilities across the state.
In the NPL and State League some clubs have done outstanding work in recent years to upgrade their grounds and facilities. Football West has made this a requirement for teams to be in the highest level of competition, the NPL, but four years in it still appears that there are rules for some and not for others.
Again the sad facts are these are clubs that were built up by sections of the community over many many years, were essentially supported financially by people and businesses because the club was a key part of their life in Australia. The football club was a place where they met their friends and like-minded souls, talked about football and put the world to rights. Many of those people are sadly now no longer with us. To compound the problem the number of volunteers are on the wane as society puts more demands on everyone’s time. As a result, these dedicated part-timers who give so much to so many clubs are stretched to the limit as it is, without having to try and negotiate with the council and Football West, as well as find the money to upgrade their grounds.
If Football West lobbied the Government for funds to upgrade grounds throughout the state, including improving the facilities at public parks where football is played the whole state would benefit, and as Mr Curtis said Football could indeed be “the best business model for achieving social change.”
If the once showpiece grounds received funding to upgrade them from Government one stipulation which may help drive fans back to the game, and would certainly assist in community engagement, would be that each club must hold two to three community functions at the venue a year. That does not mean that the Football Club has to organise them, but that the community gets to use the facility free of charge two or three times a year. If the club pays a bar manager then the community must obviously negotiate if they wish to use the bar and any wages due.
The other added bonus in upgrading these facilities is that instead of having one ground suitable for visiting overseas teams to train at – although most would probably train at the new Perth Stadium or NIB – you would in fact have a choice of venues. If any were located near a hotel in that suburb, the players could walk to the ground. This would also mean that Perth could host a triangular tournament. Two or three visiting teams and a local one. All the games being played at Perth Stadium or NIB, but all of the teams training at different venues in the metropolitan area. This would be taking football to the people, rather than expecting them to come to a central venue.
For four years there has been this push for what was then branded a “Home of Football” and is now referred to as a “State Football Centre.” Much time and money has been spent on the feasibility of such a place. Has it been worth it? Or are there more pressing issues at hand? Are promotional puff pieces such as the one that appeared in the West going to help the cause? In these economic times should $37million be spent on such a venture? Are the Government brave enough to commit to such a plan when there are so many other areas in need of funding in a state that is heavily in debt? It is a political balancing act. As many votes as they may win from Football fans they will lose from people with everyday concerns in areas such as health and education.
Everyone has an opinion. The Board may well have done their market research which says that the Football community wants such a venue, but despite the support of writers like Mr Smith one cannot help but feel it is going to be a very hard sell.
Maybe it is time to put the idea on ice and focus on other areas that need attention within the game, such as safeguarding its future, by making it affordable to all to participate, especially the children.