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.