In the days where amateur sport was fiercely regulated and players were not allowed to receive any financial reward for their performances, after a game players would often find money rolled up in their shoes from the Board or sponsors.
It would appear that we are heading back down that path in football in Western Australia.
Currently on the table is a plan for no State League Premier League club to pay any player more than $200 per game, and all club Presidents to sign a Statutory Declaration stating that they will not pay any player a dollar more.
The club Presidents may need to be reminded that this is a legally binding document, but one wonders what punishment they can expect to receive if their club is caught paying a player more. If as alluded to a sponsor decides to reward a player with some cash, there is nothing the club or the President can or would want to do to stop that.
The idea of trying to stop the state league clubs sending each other to the wall is an honorable one, yet the current ideas on the table will fail. Sport has for over 100 years found ways in which players and clubs can by-pass rules on payments in order to gain an advantage over their fellow competitors, and no salary-cap style rule will change that; The A-League clubs, NRL Clubs and those in the sport we don’t mention are all proof of that. Also let us not forget that the FFA, our games governing body tried to ‘buy votes’ for our World Cup bid, is that not a similar form of inducement? If so what is the difference?
The plan being proposed is also advocating that no club outside of the Premier League pay any player. Nothing at all. Hopefully they are not expecting that to be the case with coaches, as there are already far too few quality ones out there, we cannot afford to lose more.
The only way that you can possibly hope to monitor or control such a situation is with the help of the Tax Office. There has long been a threshold at which ‘amateur athletes’ are allowed to earn money tax free as reasonable expenses incurred for them to play to the high level that they have reached. This level should be made clear to all players and they should be given an option by the club whether they wish to remain an amateur or sign as a semi-professional player. If they opt for the later, payment is recorded and is obviously taxable. The benefit however is that if another club wishes to sign that player you would possibly be able to ask a transfer fee, with the amateur you wave that goodbye.
Currently clubs are paying players higher than the amateur threshold and have no hold on a player or a right to compensation unless they have helped develop them. By having a more open payment system and one that is done in co-operation with or Policed by the Tax Office, clubs would have to cut back on the current inflated match payments that players are receiving and may indeed prolong their own lives.
There is no fool-proof method to fix this problem as someone will always find a loophole or a way around it to entice a player to their club. The sentiment is right in that State League Clubs are suddenly paying close to $100k a year on players wages to win a prize worth just $15k. That simply does not make sense. Some would say go out and find bigger sponsors, that is all well and good but the product has to be good and it has to have media coverage in order to attract sponsors. Football West have certainly boosted that exposure with a number of options on Football West TV and a deal with the West Australian, but still any half decent players are being poached from over East. As for those coming through quite simply the standards are declining, despite the state having more academies than probably ever before. Tricks a footballer doth not make!
This is a situation that the clubs have created and it is one that that they must sort out. The biggest problem is that age old one of trust, not all of them trust each other to comply, and what is going to happen when two clubs refuse to sign the statutory Declarations?
This is being discussed at the state League standing committee level, yet not every State Premier League club attends this meeting, so having all agree to such a proposal and adhere to it is going to be tough.