FFA: The Australian Football Fan’s Worst Nightmare

Image result for FFA logo australia

 

Last week I wrote about the upcoming meetings between Football Federation Australia (FFA) and FIFA that would be taking place in Sydney between the 20th and 21st of this week.

FIFA seems to be trying to tighten up their organisation these days with last years FBI investigation leading to disgraced ex boss Sepp Blatter standing down due to corruption and bribery allegations.

Was this just a routine visit from FIFA to Australia to make sure all things are flowing smoothly within our Domestic Competition? Nope. Unfortunately for Football Federation Australia that our domestic competition and they way FFA go about there business has been on FIFA’s radar for a number of years. FIFA found that Football Federation Australia were repeatedly breaching standards of statues, the document that outlines governance and democratic requirements for the sports national federations. Members of FIFA were in fact so concerned that they packed there corruption bags, jumped on there multi million dollar private jet and flew from Zurich to Australia this week to hold two day meetings in Sydney and demand the reforms and changes be made.

Chief among their long list of concerns was the lack of democratic process in the Australian federation. Despite regulations to the contrary, soccer players, clubs and other stakeholders have been frozen out of the running of the game, or given minimal say at best. Instead, the subordinate state bodies control all but one vote at annual general meetings.

The main concern among the long list of demands was the lack of input from anywhere else but Football Federation Australia, FIFA were infact amazaed that FFA had frozen out Clubs, Players and Fans for the entire life span of the A-League Competition. An example of this: FFA controls all but one vote at their annual general meetings.

As unlikely as it may seem, FIFA has been working to improve the governance of its 211 national federations in recent years. Even China and Saudi Arabia have been brought to heel. Australia, however, has proven less amenable.

One FIFA insider said Australia’s refusal to co-operate with FIFA’s demands put it on a par with North Korea, and said its ongoing resistance meant there was a very real prospect it could be suspended from world football. This comes as Ange Postecoglou’s squad is preparing for the most crucial phase of its 2018 World Cup qualification.

FFA’s current structure is born of a good place. It’s the product of 2003’s Crawford report, the inquiry that led to the dissolution of the old Soccer Australia – a body riddled with conflicts and drained of money – and the creation of the shiny and new Football Federation Australia. There’s no doubt it has served the local game relatively well over the past decade, as evidenced by the rising fortunes

Of major concern to Gallop was how any reforms might upset the negotiation of a new television broadcasting deal. “The importance of getting this negotiation process right and ensuring we secure the best deal for the sport cannot be overstated… The environment in which we conduct our broadcast marketing and negotiations needs to be optimal.” Later, he argued that for FIFA to meet with players and clubs constituted “an unacceptable risk”.

“What is also critical to appreciate about our governance model is that the A-League clubs in Australia are not ‘clubs’ in the more traditional European or South American sense. They are all privately owned … and as such are ‘for-profit’ entities whose objective … is to act in the interests of their shareholders (and in doing so build the sales value of their asset) and not act in the interests of the game of football in Australia as a whole.”

FIFA’s acting general secretary, Markus Kattner, responded from Zurich that “FIFA and the AFC [Asian Football Confederation] are surprised that FFA would attempt to further delay the implementation” of the required governance reforms.

He reminded Gallop that November’s elections had been allowed to proceed “in good faith and on an exceptional basis” – but that there was an understanding reforms would be carried out as soon as possible afterwards.

Suggestions that dealing with stakeholders were bad for business were rejected emphatically. “In our experience, such a dialogue is in no way detrimental to the stability of national football. In fact, it stimulates development and stability. Moreover, FIFA and AFC cannot treat FFA in a more favourable way than other AFC member associations.”

The nightmare scenario for FFA is that when the clubs have a stronger voice, they will demand the A-League be run independently, as the leagues of England and Germany are. While not exactly a cash cow, the A-League does, by some accounts, generate 80 per cent of FFA’s revenue.

And thanks to the A-League’s success, FFA is dealing with the types of cashed-up and connected owners that Australian sport has never known before. Melbourne City is pumped up on petrodollars straight out of the Gulf. Indonesia’s elite Bakrie family owns Brisbane Roar. A Chinese technology company valued at $1.6 billion recently acquired the Newcastle Jets.

“The A-League has three owners whose combined wealth, and influence within FIFA and the AFC, are beyond anything FFA has encountered amongst A-League owners previously,” Mersiades posted online last week.

But it’s not just clubs expecting a voice. “[The standards statute] requires that member associations are effectively representative democracies,” said John Didulica, head of the players’ union, before this week’s meetings. “From our perspective, players are a fundamental part of the matrix within the sport. So it stands to reason that the players have a really important role within that representative democracy.”

#NewFIFANow would also like to see fans represented. “Fans are the biggest stakeholder in the sport, who choose to spend their money on being an active fan, and should have a mechanism for real involvement,” Mersiades says.

Some of FIFA’s original concerns have already been addressed, and further changes were agreed upon in Sydney this week, with more stakeholders to be given a say. Whether that will see the elite clubs given greater voice – they currently share between them the same voting rights as Football Northern Territory does – is yet to be determined, FFA says.

“When I was elected chairman of FFA in November last year I said that football was moving from its foundation stage to a new phase of growth and evolution,” said Stephen Lowy after the meeting. “We can and we should consider changes that give all stakeholders the best chance to achieve their potential.

“At the same time, FFA stressed at all the meetings that the future success of the game depends upon a disciplined and stable governance structure that serves the interests of the game overall.”

“In broad terms, the game has taken some great leaps forward,” said Didulica. “[This week’s meetings were] a timely opportunity, 13 years on from Crawford, to revisit the model that was implemented … and see how we can set the game up to take another step forward.”

Author: James Woodman // Twitter: @jameswoodman90 // Facebook: @jameswoodmanblogger

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