Last night was an all time low for Australian football. The sight of the numbers falling off Brisbane Roar’s shirts during their Asian Champions League (ACL) fixture was not laughable, it was downright embarrassing.
While there is talk about whether coach John Aloisi is going to keep his job after yet another defeat, and an extremely poor performance, the FFA are hopefully in overdrive to not only punish Brisbane Roar but to make things right with our Asian neighbours.
Aloisi was a surprise choice at the Roar after a poor start to his management career with Melbourne City. Many felt he needed to spend some time in the NPL before making the leap to the A-League, honing his skills. At Melbourne City he coached 39 games, the team won just eight, drew 7 and lost 24. At Brisbane Roar his record has improved. He has coached 85 games, won 34, Drawn 21 and lost 30.
The shirt fiasco could not have happened at a worse time, with the AFC sending a representative along with FIFA to Australia in February to try and sort out the Governance issues that have been plaguing the game for over a year. The FFA, FIFA and AFC will meet with a range of stakeholder groups to discuss the composition, mandate and terms of reference of the Congress Working Group from February 20-22nd. It is crucial that a resolution is reached over these three days or possibly even darker days may be on the horizon for the game.
Despite welcoming Australia into AFC there has been a strong Anti-Australian feeling in Asia since their joining in 2006.
There were many in Asia who felt that by having Australia as part of the AFC they had ‘stolen’ a World Cup Finals berth from an Asian side. When New Zealand qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and did so by eliminating an Asian side, Bahrain, it was felt by some that Australia had helped New Zealand. This argument being based on the fact that Wellington Phoenix were playing in the A-League, and that Ricky Herbert then Phoenix and All Whites coach had been able to fill the A-League side with many of his national players and thereby gain an advantage as they played together week-in-week-out.
In 2007 when Australia took part in the Asia Cup for the first time it was felt that the Socceroos were arrogant with their expectation that they would march through the competition all the way to the final. In a region where people tend to be more humble this did not go down well in some quarters.
Then there was the ill-fated World Cup bid. Australia had only just become a part of the AFC in 2006. It announced that it was bidding to host the World Cup in 2007. It had only just qualified for its first World Cup Finals after an absence of 32 years and suddenly it was putting its hand up to host the greatest show on earth. What is more it was running its 2022 bid against other Asian rivals such as Japan, Qatar and South Korea. It came as no surprise that Australia did not pick up one vote from Asia; although reasons behind that became far clearer after the announcement. However despite the corruption, would Australia really have picked up votes from Asia?
West Asia has long been against Australia being a part of the AFC. Despite constant insistence that football is the World Game and it is inclusive of all races, is this really the case? With the FFA’s National Club Identity Policy stating that “any new or revised club names, logos and emblems of clubs may have the following components; words or letters in English; and/or references to the broader geographic area in which the club is located; and/or colours; and/or references to flora; and/or references to fauna, provided that these components do not carry any ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations either in isolation or combination.” Does this sound like an inclusive policy? Is it therefore any surprise that rather than join the mainstream football competitions many new migrants are setting up their own teams and leagues.
We covered the racist tone of the policy when it came out in 2014 under a piece titled “Football Cleansing – A Step Too Far.”
Based on the statistics from the 2016 Census the third largest group of Australians born outside of Australia are Chinese, yet how many Chinese players do we see coming through the development systems? India is fourth, the Phillipines fifth and Vietnam sixth, if we are honest there are not the numbers of players from these origins playing the game that should be, if it was really inclusive and multicultural. The argument will be raised that these are not traditional football countries, but people in and from these nations still love the game. Vietnam just defeated the Australian U23’s at the AFC U23 Championships, so where does that put Australia?
Australians expect their teams to win. Australian athletes all go out to win every tournament they play in. There is nothing wrong with that attitude. However whereas it may be accepted in some parts of the world to talk yourself or the team up, in Asia it does not go down so well. As a result Australia has become the team Asian teams want to beat. They are the team that will see many Asian fans unite in their hope that they will lose.
Asia is a continent that is so diverse in many ways. Even when it comes to football it is diverse. It is therefore a political quagmire. Australia aligned itself very closely to former AFC President Qatari Mohammed Bin Hammam, after all he had helped Australia become a part of Asia. Bin Hamman is now gone in disgrace and Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa replaced him promising to clean up Asia. Some of his reforms may not be popular, and as is always the way in politics, to achieve one aim you may have to trade another. Will Australia become a bargaining chip?
With the visit of the AFC and FIFA next month there are some high up in the game who fear that if a resolution is not reached Australia may be forced to sacrifice their World Cup berth. It is well known that one of FIFA’s sanctions is to suspend teams and associated members from international competition when a government interferes in the running of FIFA’s associate member organisation; Pakistan and Indonesia are two recent countries to suffer that fate. However FIFA also have the power, and have used that power to suspend teams and associated members from international competition ‘if the associate is not functioning properly.’
If a Normalisation Committee were to be appointed to run Australian football then such a suspension becomes a very real proposition. In 2016 Guatemala and Kuwait were both suspended by FIFA. Guatemala was suspended after a transitional FIFA-appointed committee, which had been set up to run the federation’s affairs in the wake of a corruption scandal, was “unable to operate” because local directors refused to recognise it, according FIFA.
If that were to happen Not the Footy Show has been advised that the next highest ranking team that failed to qualify for Russia 2018 would take their place. Which would be tenth ranked Chile.
It is with this axe hanging over the Socceroos that makes the Brisbane balls-up all the more critical. As it gives those who want Australia out of Asia more ammunition. Historically, Australia has not performed well in the Asian Champions League; Western Sydney Wanderers as Champions and Adelaide United as losing finalists bucking that trend. The ACL games have been poorly attended. This is in truth more of an AFC issue and comes down to marketing and promotion. In that most countries fans know little about the teams from the other competing nations. Until this awareness and rivalries build this is always going to be the case. However that fact will be ignored. Along with falling A-League crowds poor ACL crowds signify a game in freefall.
Last night’s debacle will be a real kick in the teeth for those at AFC Head Office. The FFA find themselves in a very tenuous position and they will need to take swift action against Brisbane for bringing the game into disrepute and should already have someone on a plane to Kuala Lumpur to try and mend some bridges.
As hard as it may seem to many it really could be a case of Australia’s number being up, unless of course they can resolve the issues of governance, to assure the future of the game moving forward?