Last week we saw a number of high profile football personalities, administrators and journalists take a swipe at the FFA, over concerns that the governing body had taken their eye off the ball in terms of ensuring that we have a strong domestic league and the levels below that.
It was interesting to read the Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers of Australia, Brendan Schwab’s comments in the Sydney Morning Herald; however valid they may be let us not forget that Mr. Schwab loves to surface when there is a chance of publicity. Where was he while Messer’s, Baird, Mitchell and Rose were having clearance problems with the FFA?
In the article he stated “The failure of some states, most notably New South Wales, to embrace the Crawford Report reforms has had a profound impact. Football’s community remains alienated and fragmented, especially after being branded as ‘old soccer.”
This is definitely one area where the FFA has taken its eye off the ball completely. For a start how can you have all of the state bodies operating under different constitutions? Which has been the case for the past five years; this was not what was recommended by the Crawford Report.
The election of officers in many states has also been a grave concern; with stakeholders being unaware of how to apply or in some cases how people were elected. In Western Australia, the board of Football West is still being elected for four year terms, which is not good for the game, and the Chairman even agreed with this on “Not the Footy Show” yet was still not prepared to have his term reduced, or change the constitution. Most corporate boards have board members elected on two or three year terms, and those elected being allowed to serve only two terms. Surely this and a two year term would serve the game far better?
Despite the formation of a youth league and a women’s league is the Standing Committee system, which was a recommendation of the Crawford report working? In some states it does not even operate, in others the committee’s have no members, in most states no one knows who the committee are to be able to raise issues with them, and again in most states these committees feel that their voice is heard but ignored.
So apart from the game now being called ‘football’ and having a decent standard national league, as well as a women’s league and a youth league, not a great deal has changed. The FFA appears to have neglected the average football player around the country and have failed to monitor those charged with running the game at local level.
We once again have an administration that gambles everything on World Cup qualification, and appears to not see the importance of the Asia Cup. Failure to qualify for Brazil could have disastrous effects on the financial state of football. With that in mind the focus has been to bid for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights, but do we have the administration to pull this off? Are they political animals who can win votes from the key FIFA delegates? The worry being that this is where we will fall down and could then face a global humiliation when the voting takes place.
The Hyundai A league is without doubt the pinnacle for the male game in this country, yet apart from season one there has been hardly any promotion of the league, and most of the marketing done by the clubs themselves is of an incredibly poor quality. Yet the season that the FFA tried to control it, it failed to register with the fans as it was not relevant to the game, and was no doubt created by people without a feel or understanding of football. Without aggressive and appealing promotion how can you expect to grow the crowds? How can you compete with the other codes as they enter their finals series? To do nothing and admit defeat during this period and to choose to promote after theirs finals is a very sad indictment on the administration and shows a gross lack of marketing nous.
To expand the League and not promote it was asking for trouble. The A league needed to expand, but this expansion does not appear to have been thought through adequately, and as a result we are seeing most clubs in financial difficulty. To have a team fold so early in this new competition would be disastrous. Clubs are playing in stadia that in most cases they cannot fill, and therefore the costs are rupturing those with the licences.
To quote Brendan Schwab again, “The FFA has added about $1million to the cost base of clubs, which were already under financial pressure. The FFA club dividend has fallen to less than 50% of the salary cap, the lowest of any major sport in Australia. (The AFL pays 77% and the NRL 71%).” Based on these figures is it any wonder that some clubs are heading for failure?
So if they have things going wrong at the top do they have the foundations right at the other end of the game? Are they building strong foundations for the game to grow? We asked prior to the World Cup what was being done to cope with the surge in interest from the World Cup but saw no indication of anything being planned. Small sided games are one small component which encourages children to participate in the game, but if they then move into areas where the coaching is not of an adequate standard they will be lost?
The talent identification programs that have been put in place have yet to be a proven success. The AIS program has fallen a long way behind where it was when Ron Smith nurtured the Socceroos who took us to Germany in 2006. Most of last year’s graduates struggled to even achieve A League contracts. Talent that has slipped through the net is now being prevented the opportunity to head overseas for fear they may, if successful chose the land of their parent’s birth if good enough, rather than Australia. If the FFA continues to try and block young talent being offered a chance overseas they will definitely lose these players forever, they will not forget the FFA’s attempts to stifle possible careers.
The game has problems and the next six months are undoubtedly going to determine whether it falls back into the mire it was in prior to the Crawford report, or climbs out of the mud, washes itself down and stands proudly alongside the other codes, where it should always have been.
Are those charged with running the game up to the task? At times it appears that football is quite happy to take on people with experience from other codes, which may sound fine. However were they the best people in their code or were they mediocre and hence chose to jump ship to try and climb the ladder in a sport where the competition is less fierce?
The Crawford Report gave people who loved the game a voice, it also gave them hope. The current situation is not hopeless, but it is concerning, and maybe it is time for those same people to stand up again and make their voice heard.
During the 2006 World Cup prior to Australia’s meeting with Brazil, I visited the first concentration camp set up in Germany, Dachau. It was here that Pastor Martin Niemoller was held, a man attributed to the famous statement about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazis rise to power and their purging of chosen targets, group after group.
“First, they came for the Jews. But I was not a Jew, so I did not speak up. Then they came for the communists. But I was not a communist, so I did not speak up. Then they came for the trade unionists. But I was not a trade unionist, so I did not speak up. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Maybe it is wrong to use this quote when talking about sport, but it is used to illustrate that people need to speak up, because if they don’t before they know it, it could be too late.