Since the publishing of “Another Fine Mess” on the weekend, which highlighted the Football West’s failure to call an Annual General Meeting in 2015, an offence under the Criminal code, there have been some who have felt that criticism of the Standing Committees was harsh.
This has in fact highlighted a problem. The first is that many on the Standing Committees do not know what the game was like before the reform process of 2003, and many have not taken the time to explore that history to realise how important their role is in the running of the game.
Sadly many of those who understood the responsibility and questioned the way the game was being run, as was their role and right, were hounded out. Others simply gave up after banging their heads against the wall for so long. In the end the whole process simply became a headache.
The main objectives of the Crawford Report were to have a critical assessment of the governance, management and structure of soccer in Australia at that time, and this was to be compiled by an independent respected businessman, David Crawford. Meetings were held around the country and all stakeholders were invited to submit their thoughts.
Once that assessment had been made Crawford was to put forward “solution-based recommendations to deliver a comprehensive governance framework and management structure for the sport that addresses the needs of affiliate organisations and stakeholders.” These recommendations were to include adjustments to existing governance systems and/or integration of activities and operations.
Back then the game was splintered. The Amateur game, the Women’s game, Junior football, and the semi professional game were all run as separate entities. Across the country corruption was rife with elections stacked in return for favours to clubs or club officials. Despite the corruption, there are many who will claim that the game was in fact more transparent then, as everyone knew who was corrupt and who they were affiliated to and with.
Understandably, initially there were attempts to scuttle the reform process.
One key area that needed attention was the restructuring of the governance of the State Associations. The aim of which was to lead to a more democratic approach and the enfranchisement of groups not previously represented (e.g. referees, women’s players, etc.) This was done by giving these groups a voice and a say in the direction that the game moved forward.
Maybe there has been some confusion in the way the game was supposed to be structured and maybe, that has been the result of the outgoing Chairman of the Football Federation, Frank Lowy. Mr Lowy adopted a very dictatorial position to his role as Chairman, something he has continually claimed was necessary to take the game to where it is today; there are some who long questioned that approach and the proof as to whether it was the right approach will become clear in the next few years.
Regrettably many of the State Boards followed the lead given by Mr Lowy. They too became Dictatorial and forgot the basic role of a Board of Directors which is “to act on behalf of the shareholders to run the day to day affairs of the business.” They are there to ensure that the CEO is running a tight ship, to assess whether requests made by the stakeholders are feasible and if not work with them to find a mutually acceptable outcome. Never has their role been to dictate a direction.
As mentioned previously, there were members of the Standing Committees who tried to challenge the refusal of the board, and the CEO, to listen to their demands. Some have claimed they were threatened, others simply became tired and disenchanted with the lack of unity which prevented positives outcomes.
If we look at the structure put forward by David Crawford in the Crawford report he maybe over-estimated the calibre of the people taking up positions on the Standing Committees and as Zone Representatives. How many of the various Standing Committees have minutes of their meetings?
How many of them make those minutes readily available to all of the stakeholders they are representing? These are basic business practices that have rarely if ever been followed by some Standing Committees. In fact some Standing Committee members have failed to report back to any other clubs part from the one that nominated them for election. Is that true representation of the stakeholders? The question is who is making the Standing Committees accountable? It should be the clubs that they represent. Some would argue that as part of their role in ensuring the game is run correctly the Board should have made sure that this information was being passed on.
It is the Standing Committees and the Zone Reps who vote on new Board Members. How many of the Standing Committee members understand the making up of a Board, ensuring that various skill sets are covered off, so that you have management experience in every facet of the business, so that the Board can effectively “run the day to day affairs of the business?”
The sad thing is, as with Mr Lowy, it is in the interests of those employed to administer the game if the Standing Committees are dysfunctional, as the Board and administration are not held in check or accountable. It also means that they can make decisions that they see fit rather than following the wishes and instructions of a unified group representing the Stakeholders.
When there are Board elections do the Zone Reps and Standing Committees meet as a whole to discuss the relevant candidates before the AGM and before they vote? Do they ask the Stakeholders, the clubs they represent, the referees they represent, etcetera, whom they feel would be the best candidate to vote for? It is doubtful that all of the Standing committees have ever sat around a table together to discuss collective issues. Many opting to lobby in their particular section of the game, rather than use the strength of a unified group.
As the Standing Committees and Zone Reps have the power to vote at the AGM should they now be forming a delegation to meet with the Secretary on the Board to ask why an AGM was not held in 2015, why Football West finds itself in breach of the Corporations Act? Unfortunately the Football West website does not disclose in the list of directors who the Secretary is, but the question still needs to be asked. Who else is there to ask that question on behalf of the Stakeholders apart from the Zone Reps and the Standing Committees who are the club’s, player’s, coach’s and referee’s representatives.
One concerning issue if the stakeholders were of the mind to call an Extraordinary General Board meeting to question the Board on this breach, there is no avenue in the Constitution to do so. Which means that the only avenue stakeholders have is to report the breach to ASIC and the various Government funding bodies; but that could be detrimental to the game as a whole.
So whether they like it or not the Zone Reps and Standing Committee members have a huge responsibility at this point in time, and it is important that they handle the issue properly for the long-term good of the game. As a stakeholder if you care about the game you need to be asking your representative whether in light of there being no AGM, and Football West being in breach of the Corporations Act, which is a criminal offence, has a meeting been convened as soon as possible to discuss an approach?
If the Standing Committees have failed to discuss this serious matter, then sadly they have failed in the role that they were given as a result of the Crawford report.
They have a very important role to play in the game, and it is vital that all who nominate and hold such positions understand the power that they have the responsibility that comes with that power. This is something the Chair should make clear to them once they are elected; but again it is doubtful whether that has happened. This issue is not about one club, but about all clubs and all players. It is about the overall game.