Socceroos Make a Stand

It is extremely unfortunate that the Socceroos first visit to Perth in ten years has now been hijacked by a dispute between the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA). Thursday’s game will be an historic one for Western Australia as it is the first time the Socceroos will have played anything other than a friendly in the city.

Yesterday the FFA and the PFA announced that the latter had instructed Socceroo players to withdraw from scheduled events involving school children and football fans in Perth.

The PFA’s statement on Monday night stated that participation in matches wouldn’t be an issue neither would “community, media and charitable work whilst in camp.” The statement concluded with “However, in the absence of a CBA, the players have elected not to perform any additional work, namely commercial activities and appearances on behalf of FFA.”

The PFA said FFA’s withdrawal of the MOU on August 14, following the expiration of the June 30 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) left players with no legal protection.

The timing is extremely unfortunate from a Western Australian perspective, although one can understand the player’s stance to some degree.

As a player in Australia things have never been so good. With the median salary in the A-League sitting at around $100k a year players in the main can now earn a decent living from football; although some players are still stuck on the minimum wage of just below $5ok per year, but for an unestablished player, let’s say an apprentice, still not a bad starting wage.

In the past Australian players used to head to Europe and play for second or third tier sides in various leagues and earn not much more than they earned in the old NSL. These players managed playing time and gained experience and then were rewarded with a move to a big club.

Today with money sloshing around in football many do not need that stepping stone. They can leave the A-league and head to Asia and earn close to over half a million dollars, often playing for a very average side. Meanwhile the A-League club gains a very important injection of cash in a transfer fee. The sad thing is though, very few clubs in Europe sign players from Asian Leagues, unless they are Asian internationals.

Which comes down to the question of whether players are playing for the game, and what they can achieve as a player, or are they playing for the money and to set themselves up for life? Interestingly many of those who have been successful will tell you that they have played for the game, sure they want to make money, but it is about achieving what they can from the game. These players often come away with the riches because their drive and determination sees them succeed, and a spin off away from the game was financial reward.

It is very sad to see our national teams in a pay dispute with the game’s governing body. This was something that we witnessed in the old days of Soccer Australia and its predecessors. Days when the players were not paid on time and had to threaten strike action. Yet have things really changed that much? Following the success of the team at the World Cup in Germany in 2006 many of the players had to wait over six months for the payment of their bonuses for getting out of their group.

In the FFA statement CEO David Gallop is quoted as saying “One must ask whether our senior national team players have had the game’s financial position explained to them so that they understand the affordability aspects of the negotiation. Most importantly, the critical need to understand the continued quest to achieve financial sustainability for the Hyundai A-League clubs and their owners. If those facts were fully explained we would be very surprised if our players would have taken the step of boycotting these important initiatives.”

This maybe highlights the precarious position that football finds itself in.

There will be plenty who will argue that the FFA should not be assisting A-League Franchise owners any more than they already do, and that these owners should be responsible for their businesses. Yet it has become abundantly clear that the Franchise model which fans were assured had been researched and deemed the best model for such a competition in Australia, has failed miserably.

It has to be hoped that the Board and the senior management are working hard behind the scenes to come up with a plan B that extricates it from this model and eases it into a more viable and sustainable League structure.

Many will argue that our national team players should be the priority, and they should be looked after. Others will say it is an honour many would give their eye teeth for, to don the green and gold, and money should never be an object. Yet it is. When you have a player like Elise Kellond-Knight from the Matildas who has twice been named in the FIFA Women’s World Cup All Star team considering retirement at 25 years of age due to the cost of playing for her country there is a clear problem.

While Socceroos selection guarantees a five figure fee, one has to feel for the Women, whose wages are only still in the hundreds of dollars per game. Yet to give it some perspective the World Champion Kookaburras earned less for playing seven games and winning the World Cup, than most Socceroos earn in a game! To be fair the men are pushing for a better deal for their female counterparts. One has to ask would they take a cut for that to be achieved?

Unlike other codes, as football loves to boast, it offers more players the chance to represent their country. Sadly with that honour comes a cost. A-League players in the main are not up to top flight international games so players are selected from leagues around the globe and flown home. Not many other sports have that added cost to address. Will rugby now suffer opening the door to players who play overseas?

One has to ask whether the PFA would have taken this course of action in Sydney and Melbourne. It is no doubt safer to have made the decision to act in sleepy old Perth, where they only play once every ten years or so. The fan backlash is bound not to be as great.

It is however a sad state of affairs and reflects that all is not as rosy as people will have you believe. Despite the television deals there is not a bottomless pit of money. Ask the NPL clubs how much money they have received from the pot of gold for their competition. Then again how much have all the sides around the country received from playing the FFA Cup and their games being televised? Have they received a bigger windfall as they progress through the tournament?

The FFA have a “Whole of Football” blueprint as to where they plan to take the game in the next 20 years, yet as raised previously how are they going to implement many of these things, where is the money going to come from?

There are still many things that need to be addressed, and not just the CBA for the players, and the PFA being re-acknowledged; as on 12 August the FFA withdrew recognition of Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), the exclusive collective representative of Australia’s professional footballers since 1993. This was not a wise move.

There needs to be more transparency and more open discussion as to how as a whole the game can progress. If not there will be more protests such as that witnessed in Perth and none of these do the game of football any good.

Socceroos Make a Stand
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