The FFA, plans, and roadblocks

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Fail to plan, plan to fail, or so the saying goes. Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop gave an address to the nation’s footballing fraternity on Thursday morning, citing yet another plan that was to ascend football to another level within our shores.

There were promising signs and some perplexing phraseology, but overall the message was a familiar one. After all, we’ve been here before. Football loves a plan.

This plan for ‘the whole of football’ which can be read here is timetabled for introduction at the conclusion of the Asian Cup, which finishes with the final on January 31st.

This new plan will succeed the existing plan, which detailed four key objectives when it was released in 2011. One of these four goals was to “host the best ever AFC Asian Cup”, so we will leave that on the backburner for now given the event is yet to be held, and focus on the remaining three objectives.

These three objectives that the FFA detailed were as follows:

  1. “Qualify for and succeed at World Cups, at all age levels for Men’s & Women’s, through development of elite players, elite coaches and elite player pathway infrastructure”
  2. “Develop the A-League into a highly popular and commercially sustainable competition”
  3. “Create value for, connect with and harness the football community to grow participation and convert participants to A-League fans”

So has the FFA achieved the objectives stated above or have they missed the target in spectacular, Michael Mifsud-esque fashion? Keep in mind that these goals were set to be completed by 2015.

Objective 1

This has plainly not been fulfilled. We all understand the realities of facing three talented and impressive international opponents in Spain, Netherlands and Chile, but the goal that was set was to “succeed” at the tournament. It cannot be concluded that this was the case at the 2014 World Cup. The FFA failed in abysmal fashion when they insisted that the Socceroos squad would be regenerated under Holger Osieck, but allowed him to continually select players who were short term fixes and ignore the future. An inexperienced squad and a tremendously difficult group meant that the Socceroos were always likely to struggle in Brazil, but the FFA’s refusal to move on from the unpopular, unsuccessful and tactically underwhelming Osieck contributed to that situation.

The Joeys have secured a place in next year’s under-17 World Cup to be held in Chile, which is without doubt a positive sign. But one must wonder what will come of the team during the tournament itself, where the calibre of opposition will be significantly increased from what they faced in the recent AFC under-16 Championships.

Next month Australia will compete at the AFC under-19 Championships where a semi final place will ensure qualification for next year’s under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. This is another box to tick in the process of ensuring successful national teams “at all age levels”, but the tournament also represents a potential stumbling block.

How did the Australian women’s under-20 team perform at the 2014 World Cup? Well, they didn’t because they failed to qualify. Australia won just one of five matches in the 2013 AFC under-19 Women’s Championship, losing their last four games.

The Matildas reaching the final of the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup guaranteed their place at next year’s World Cup in Canada, a good sign and another example of a strong team continuing their success. But the failures of the women’s youth sides are a cause for concern in the future.

Objective 2

The achievement of this goal is debatable because although some A-League clubs are experiencing record membership numbers, others are struggling to stay afloat as they become embroiled in financial difficulties.

Central Coast Mariners have long been suspected of being in a less than secure position and their recent change – or non-change, if you will – of ownership has cast further doubt on their future. Newcastle Jets are up for sale, and revelations about Adelaide United’s financial situation have come to light recently. This does not bode well for a league and governing body which are all about income generation and profit maximisation.

Each of the objectives stated in 2011 was supplemented with a categorisation of how it would financially influence the FFA, perhaps highlighting where priorities lay at the time. It is hard to make a compelling argument that the current thought processes are any different. The bottom line is the bottom line. For something that is so clearly the main priority of the FFA, they seem to be falling behind.

Objective 3

Clearly the most divisive of the three objectives to assess, because despite what many perceive to be gross mismanagement is glossed over in favour of the successes of the FFA. Yes we have a new Cup competition, and yes it has gone some way towards healing the wounds of old. But I cannot stress greatly enough to what extent these old wounds were reopened with the implementation of the National Club Identity Policy (NCIP), perhaps the most derisory and intellectually insulting piece of corporate spin that has ever been conjured in footballing circles.

“Our game is inclusive, accessible, multicultural and international – they are the qualities that make Australia such a diverse and successful nation,” said Gallop in his address on Thursday morning.

That quote is what can only be described as a firm slap in the face to those offended by the NCIP. Let me make it clear that Gallop is absolutely right in his assertions that inclusivity and multiculturalism add to football and to Australia in a broader sense. But this statement reeks of hypocrisy and a fundamental lack of understanding of just what the NCIP actually said to those it affected. It said that they were not welcome to celebrate who they are or where they have come from.

Gallop’s FFA attempted to promote what I would term ‘inclusivity by exclusivity’ – they believed that eliminating so-called undesirable fanbases by marginalising their ability for self expression would make the game more appealing to the market that the FFA most desires – families. I would love to know what evidence was used to come to this strategic decision because excluding people is plainly not what the game should be about, and yet that is exactly what the FFA have done.

The FFA have further frustrated fans with decisions which inhibit the growth of active support, the bedrock of atmosphere on which the promotion of football in Australia is built. The continued use of active support groups in promotional materials has been seen as completely hypocritical, with the FFA imposing restrictions that hinder fans from creating the same atmosphere that the FFA peddles as its unique selling point. Not only are potential new fans essentially the victims of false advertising, existing fans are left feeling mistreated and unwanted.

It is very interesting then that Gallop made references to the ‘football family’, a phrase which has been present in the Australian football lexicon for some time now. This phrase has come to mean many things during the last decade, from someone who has special access to purchase tickets for major event prior to general public sale, to any supporter of football.

Families have fights, they disagree on things and they may not talk to each other at the dinner table on Christmas Day. But families do not exclude each other because of slight differences. Apart from the phrase being generally nauseating and overused, it has no element of truth. Football in Australia is not a family; it is a sport which despite steps forwards it takes almost as many backwards ones because it continues to shoot itself in the foot with poor governance and short sighted, irrationally motivated decisions.

The future

Gallop mentioned that goals would be ratcheted up and the bar raised, with fans having an opportunity to express their desires. One wonders just how many emails will go unread because they focus on topics which the FFA appears to have no desire to address; the NCIP, active support, promotion/relegation, and so on.

But it seems highly unlikely that the FFA can reach its goals if it keeps putting roadblocks in its own path. Fans are becoming increasingly fed up with the lack of clarity in decision making and the belittling communiqués that stress inclusivity and growth, when the actions of the FFA resemble a lack of true desire for this to happen.

Andrew Cussen

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