Inclusion at the core of Australian football’s evolution


In October 2010, Football Federation Australia (FFA) commenced its National Competition Review (NCR). This inquiry reportedly involved extensive consultation with the football community. FFA put together an NCR panel, which included its own members, members of the States and Territories, and club representatives from around the country. The objective was to review the current structure of football competitions, and proposals of preferred models from its members.

Although, the bigger picture was to establish how FFA can improve and monitor Australia’s elite player development, talent identification and grassroots structure.

FFA’s Chief Executive Officer, Ben Buckley (pictured) believes the process has been consultative, and key stakeholders have been given a forum in which to speak, openly and without prejudice.

“Like other important initiatives including Small Sided Football, the National Curriculum and National Football Development Plan, I am certain we will look back upon the National Competition Review as having been fundamental to achieving our vision of Australia becoming one of the leading football nations in the world,” said Buckley.

Have the members and representatives really been heard this time?

The first point under Issues Identified (page 8) is the primary concern and always has been in Australian football. That being, clubs do not feel part of the development pathway.

More broadly, the base of the governance and management structure requires administrators to do some dirty work. However, those at the apex give preferential treatment to commercial enterprise. “Trickle-down” politics at its best. If you feed the National teams and Hyundai A-League with enough promotion, eventually there’ll be some benefit to the States and Territories, and grassroots clubs.

Hasn’t worked in the past and isn’t working now.

FFA should not fall into the trap of former governing bodies. It has been nine years since the Crawford Report. FFA has failed to prioritise what its constituents value most: inclusion. Every kick of a ball outside of the National teams and the Hyundai A-League has been of little, if any, significance to FFA.

The most prominent concerns received by Crawford’s Committee were:

  • poor governance and management practices within the sport
  • inappropriate conduct by Directors including micro-managing day-to-day business at the expense of their broader strategic and compliance responsibilities
  • in-fighting between [the governing body] and State federations resulting in an attitude of each protecting their “own turf” at the expense of the broader interests of the sport as a whole
  • a lack of integration and mutual trust between [the governing body] and its constituent bodies
  • malaise, lack of decision-making, poor financial management and lack of accountability within the sport
  • State and Territory-based associations competing against one another
  • failure to translate the enthusiasm for junior to senior [football]
  • slow response by [the governing body] in addressing the interests of referees, women and [futsal]
  • need for separate responsibility for the [national competition]

How many points can you tick-off in 2012?

Although the NCR is well overdue, FFA has now acknowledged – at least on paper – the importance of national competitions around the country.

When asked what prompted the NCR, FFA Head of National Teams and Football Development, John Boultbee stated:

“The National Competition Review came out of a common desire by all of the State federations to improve the status of the State leagues, and to provide a better level of competition underneath the A-League. An agreement was made between the State federations and FFA to conduct this review.”

The Proposed Competitions Calendar (page 14) – to FFA’s credit – is conceptually engaging.

FFA Executive Manager, Mark Falvo, identified the key concerns by the States and Territories when speaking publicly about the NCR.

“One of the issues raised during the Competition Review was the inconsistency in the naming that’s applied to all of the leagues around the country,” said Falvo.

“We feel it’s appropriate that the leagues come under a new national brand that will highlight the second tier of football in the country, underpinning the A-League, and that all of the States together are playing this important role.”

Sounds promising.

However, how much will it cost? When will this structure be delivered? Are all of the States and Territories in agreement with the NCR, practically not tentatively or in theory? Most importantly, what resources are required to ensure youth development outcomes equate to quality football(ers) across the country?

Tell us these things, FFA. The majority of your constituents – bar the apathetic bandwagon – would like to know. They have invested heavily and share a stake in the future direction of the game. Always have.

Only time will tell if this is another glossy document to appease the States and Territories, and grassroots clubs.

The Professional Footballers Association (PFA), prior to the establishment of the Hyundai A-League, outlined a strategic plan for Australian football. The national competition was to be called the Australian Premier League (APL). The States and Territories, and grassroots clubs were included in the plan from the outset.

“The Australian Premier League will, in conjunction with the APL teams, make a multi-million dollar investment in grassroots development in conjunction with all participating [Football] Associations.”

The broader outcomes of the NCR are nothing new.

FFA has now taken steps to accept accountability for its lack of inclusion with the States and Territories, and the grassroots clubs – some call them “old soccer” – in order to move forward.

It’s time for action on the ground.

This feature was published by SportBizInsider.


4 Responses to Inclusion at the core of Australian football’s evolution

  1. Simple Football – Not Rocket Science – Not Evolution

    It continually amazes me that football pundits, administrators and analysts view this game of football as though it was some kind of rocket science. The fans have always loved the simplicity of the game and their inclusion; that’s why everyone has an opinion and everyone’s view and opinion has equal weight.
    • The game is simple – it hasn’t changed in my lifetime.

    • The competition structure is simple – best teams get promoted to a higher division the worse teams get relegated to a lower division (this is the incentive to be better)

    • The development of players is simple – good knowledge, good people skills, good coaching

    • The Team Structure is simple – A Coach, players and support staff (mainly conditioning & medical)

    • The Team development Structure is simple – A good reserve team & good youth structure (same as above)

    • The Football Administration Structure is simple (should be!) – An Owner (nowadays a Board) that is football orientated, savvy Football Manager and support staff as required by the size of its Club.

    The complication of Australian Football (in my lifetime) has always been the Administrative arm of football (I affectionately know them as ‘the corporate bureaucracy’ or TCB).

    TCB’s job, should be simple; to establish the competition (as noted above) plus run one (1) football team being the National Team and generally under the same structure as any other football team (as noted above). This equation only increases with the addition of other National Teams such as Women’s, Youth, Olympic etc., still not complicated just more off!

    To run and administer this football competition & these National teams TCB wants various Boards and Committees, Executive Departments, Business and Finance Departments, Coaching Departments, Administrative Departments, Operations Departments, Advertising and Marketing Departments, Lobbyist and Consultants, Media and Public Relation Departments, Industrial Relation Departments, Information Technology Departments, Business Development Departments, Football Development Departments and it goes on!

    When it doesn’t know what to do anymore TCB adds another Department or calls for a Review.

    Whether TCB is called Soccer Australia, Football Australia or Football Federation Australia, everyone in Football knows where the problem is and where it has always been!

    How can TCB independently review itself? so TCB call for a National Competition Review!
    What’s achieved – Nothing!

    The problem is not Football!

    The problem is that TCB doesn’t know how to keep it simple and so the blame game goes on and on. Yes is the ‘old’ guard, it’s the ‘old’ soccer, it’s the ‘old’ neighsayers or it’s the media. In fact the problem is TCB.

    How can TCB make things better?

    • TCB must give football back to the Community Clubs and to the fan base, remove itself from direct ownership and control.

    • TCB must constitute itself to be a democratic, transparent and accountable Association

    • TCB must continue to be the responsible arm for all The National Teams

    • TCB must be and continue to be responsible to generate the revenue to support the operation of the HAL and to inject revenue into the HAL Clubs to assist in their growth and development thereby achieving growth and development for all eligible Clubs.

    • TCB to build a simple structured 16 team HAL competition with minimal criteria (only media related) so that Clubs can afford to grow the football and infrastructure will follow (over time). Remove difficult to achieve Stadium criteria, remove salary cap restraints, remove bond restrictions and do have accountability criteria so as to save-guard player contracts.

    • TCB should facilitate and encourage the initiatives of any HAL Clubs to promote Clubs and football and in any ventures that they consider fit for their Club and football.
    • The competition must have immediate promotion and relegation. A delay in a promotion and relegation system only causes uncertainty and complacency.
    o Relegation only one bottom team to be relegated (irrespective of region).
    o Promotion only one team. The Premiers for each state are in a ‘Top 6’ playoff and the GF winner gets promoted to that HAL.
    o All other divisions have a ‘normal’ Promotion and Relegation platform.

    I’ve now gone on too long and risk making this commentary more complicated than it needs to be.

    It’s not about the money – It’s about FOOTBALL

  2. @kirikee says:

    so essentially they are trying to do what basketball did and ultimately failed to do with the ABA – a national Second Tier competition based on state geography – because the money required beyond the professional top tier was simply too much. Ultimately, the basketball leagues went back to the control and ownership of the local state federations (with the exception of the SEABL, which incorporate teams from Victoria, regional Victoria/South Australia, and Tasmania). It’s hard to see where the money is going to come from when the players get paid more per game than I used to get from a week working in retail during University.

  3. Agree for the most part, but who’s to say that it ultimately will be “old soccer” that comes back into the fray, as you portend?

    One need only look at the FFV’s continued push for regional junior teams instead of kids playing at traditional clubs, coupled with its continued neglect of the VPL in a public sense compared to that of a decade or so ago, to see that the clubs of yesteryear returning is far from inevitable.

    I can only speak from a Victorian sense, where the abolition of the VPL in favour of a regional structure has long been feared by participating clubs, but from what I can gather there is a similar sentiment in NSW with respect to Western Sydney-dominated PDP clubs.

    The point is, a lot is still up in the air in regards to which direction the FFA and the various state federations will head into.

  4. Good stuff.

    The FFA finally seems like it may have half an ear the ground, and open a fraction to the people who pay their wages. Here’s hoping.

    I think one factor that has been missed minimum compensation agreement for players poached from state league or other clubs for the A-league. The proposed points system is a fantastic idea, but money is always the biggest motivator.

    Hopefully the Eye of Sauron turns next to the “Community Clubs” and the assistance most need in training coaches, financial management and quality pitches. After all, without assistance to these clubs – the elite players, most of whom will spend their formative years at community clubs, will continue to be a step behind their international counterparts.

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