A Little Less Conversation A Little More Action

David Gallop the CEO of the Football Federation of Australia today gave what was billed as his “State of the Game Address.” The press conference was streamed on the internet courtesy of SBS, however it frustratingly frequently stalled and segments were missed.

Gallop, like many modern-day sports administrators is the consummate politician. He is great on rhetoric, although he did not look as composed and confident talking as he did in his previous role with the National Rugby League.

Mr Gallop opened by saying “Everywhere you look at the moment you can see that Australian football is enjoying a golden period.” There are many around the game who will have switched off at that point as the game is in truth far from being in a ‘Golden period.’ The national team showed patches of potential at the World Cup, but lost every game and conceded the equal most goals, our youth national teams continue to struggle at international tournaments. Australia has the least number of players playing top flight football overseas for over 15 years, Despite the performances of Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar many will say the A-League has stalled as a competition, and bringing in high profile players well past their prime is simply a band-aid; the same band aid the current Chairman of the FFA used and which failed in the old NSL. Then the much heralded FFA Cup has cost many teams outside the top echelons privileged to take part, money that they cannot afford.

On the FFA Cup Mr Gallop stated “we’re seeing the connection between all tiers of our game come to life, it’s closer and more productive than ever before.” It would have been nice had he expanded on how this is so. With games being moved away from NPL side’s grounds and no compensation being paid how can it be more productive? Being a part of the FFA Cup has actually hurt many clubs around the country. If he is not aware of that as the head of the game then that is a major concern.

“Our game is inclusive, accessible, multicultural and international.” Mr Gallop said yet the FFA have just stopped any newly created team being allowed to  have a badge or a name that is linked to an overseas culture? The Pararoos -the Paralympic football team – lost their Government funding, and yet the FFA has not stepped forward to pick that up, and word is did little to assist in obtaining the funding, with the focus mainly on keeping the funding for the able-bodied youth representative teams. Why was the ten-year Aboriginal program abandoned once the World Cup bid was lost, and only reinstated due to the work of Warren Mundine, John Moriarty and the Norther Territory Government. Yet we are to believe the game is inclusive and multicultural?

One comment that was on the money was when Mr Gallop said that “it’s fair to say the game’s governance structures have been a work-in-progress since the reform process of the Crawford report in 2003 and the inauguration of the FFA under the leadership of Frank Lowy in 2004.” Why is it ten years on that none of the state bodies are full members of the FFA? Why ten years down the track are the constitutions and election processes in each state different? Surely these are basic administrative issues that Mr Lowy and his team should have addressed; especially the last one as FIFA advised the FFA that this needed to be addressed if their World Cup bid was to be successful. One issue that needs to be addressed is election to the board of the FFA, with none of the “Associate” Member state bodies having a vote or a say.

This new “National Plan” is to be drafted by Mr Gallop’s team at the FFA along with “external help” and he said that an external strategic company would be employed. He talked of “unity of purpose,” which sounds great, yet the purpose at all levels of the game is so different, and until the FFA grasps and understands those purposes at every level, such a plan will struggle to succeed. Mr Gallop said that in the first phase of this plan the FFA would “listen” to the game’s stakeholders; this is a key, and it is vital they listen to those who are most vocal against their plans, not just those who happily nod and tow the line. He said they will “consult” with individual participants. That will be interesting, as to consult means that you will “seek advice” and “do one’s best in the interest of that person.” If this is in fact the case these are very positive signs, but sadly we have heard it all before.

Just two years ago Gallop’s predecessor Ben Buckley unveiled his four pillars strategic plan for football in Australia. He too trotted out the same statistics that Mr Gallop did – check and it is scary how similar their build up to the plans are! Mr Buckley said that his third pillar was “all about connecting with the grassroots.” He went on to state that “if we build loyalty with our grassroots community and provide them with support or benefits that are valued” then the game will be the winner. Two years on have grassroots clubs seen that support and what benefits have then had? Mr Buckley also promised “we will deliver benefits to all tiers.” Many are still waiting to see those benefits.

Like his predecessor Mr Gallop is not a football man, and putting a scarf around his neck and cheering on the Socceroos is not going to transform him into one. He is however a good administrator. He is a man who can take the game forward. Yet if he wants to garner the support of football fans across the country he needs to genuinely engage them. Today sadly Mr Gallop’s address was all words and spin, never once did he discuss the costs that come with as he said “The burden of opportunity” in the game, although he did concede that “We don’t always have the capital, the resources and the structures to harvest the opportunity.” So how are you going to source these funds? These are the questions most football lovers want to hear answered.

It is great to talk about plans, but how are you going to implement them, are you truly going to engage the stakeholders,get out there and see the problems junior and senior clubs face, and listen and take on board those issues and try and address them? Tell us where the money is going to come from to implement the components of the plan, who will pay, what will be the additional cost to parents whose children play the game, or to clubs who host those players? This is what people want to hear, hard cold facts.

Ten years on it is time these fundamental facts were addressed. We all want to see the Socceroos and Matildas do well, just as we want the A-League to succeed, but at the moment the lower tiers are being strangled financially. The talk we have heard before – two years ago in fact – and as for the words put down in the future National Plan, they will be just words, unless they are backed up with costs and support from all following a proper consolation process.

With the ‘National Plan’ due to be published in mid 2015, it is time now for Mr Gallop and his team’s actions to speak.

September 18, 2014 at 10:59 am 1 comment

Don’t Blame it on Rio, Blame it on the Referendum

With less than twenty four hours until Scotland’s referendum on whether it should break free from the shackles of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and become an independent nation, many of the country’s top athletes are faced with a real dilemma, if they believe this is in fact a good move.

The International Olympic Committee have according to Britain’s Independent newspaper said that it would be “virtually impossible” to endorse Scotland as a separate country in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

This would mean that defending Olympic tennis gold medallist Andy Murray would be unable to defend his title. Other top Scottish athletes would also miss out on Olympic dreams, that is unless they decided to continue to compete for Team GB. However such a move would deem them ineligible to compete for their newly independent nation in 2020.

Interestingly Andy Murray will not be eligible to vote in tomorrow’s referendum, as he does not reside in Scotland. He has a luxury house in Wimbledon. Murray has always distanced himself from the referendum debate, however at the recent US Open when asked who he would opt to play for if Scotland did take the independent route, he was quoted as saying “I imagine I would be playing for Scotland, but I haven’t thought much about it yet because it is not looking too likely.” That was before the polls narrowed in the past week, and now he may have to think a little more deeply about his predicament.

Another man in a tight spot should the independence vote win through is former Chair of the British Olympic Association, Sir Craig Reedie, who was a key player in the success of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Sir Craig hails from Glasgow and although he has stated that he is opposed to Scotland becoming independent, as an IOC vice president, many believe he will be given the task of trying to speed up Scotland’s endorsement with the IOC so that its athletes can compete in Rio.

Once again sport and its athletes are unfortunately drawn into a political situation; hopefully things will work out positively for all concerned, and whatever the outcome of the referendum, Scottish athletes can compete in Rio in two years time.

September 17, 2014 at 11:44 am Leave a comment

Bid Failure May Be Costlier than at First Thought

England losing its bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup was bad enough for the country dubbed “The Home of Football” but its impact may in fact be more far reaching than many realised. That is if the recent results being recorded by the British Olympic and Paralympic sports are anything to go by.

At the recent Invictus Games which saw 400 competitors from 14 nations compete in 8 sports, and event that featured athletes injured, sick or disabled as a result of their serving their country, Britain’s Paralympic stocks looked to be extremely healthy heading towards Rio in 2016.

In fact there has hardly been one sport from the London Olympic Games that has not lifted its game since the hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games. The results proving a real legacy, with stand out performances in triathlon, athletics and gymnastics, where Claudia Fragapane emerged with four gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile at the recent Youth Olympics in China 16 year old Gianni Regini-Moran scooped five gold medals.

In fact at the Youth Olympics Britain’s 32 athletes won a record 24 medals. (7 Gold, 6 silver and 11 bronze).

Lord Coe who when bidding for London to host the 2012 Olympic Games promised a legacy, has been quoted as saying “There is no reason why some should not be there or thereabouts in Rio.”

With success coming so hot on hosting the Olympic Games there are many in English football looking on and wondering if hosting the World Cup would have also seen a surge in English born talent coming to the surface, and players emerging who may actually steer the national team to at least the semi finals of a major tournament.

The truth is we will never know…

September 16, 2014 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

EPL Chair Could Prove a Hot Seat

In sport there have always been questions as to who wields the power. In recent times it has been the players who are frequently on more money than their bosses who have been said to have the upper hand. However on many occasions it has been a case of the tail wagging the dog.

It would appear that English Premier League clubs are looking for a way to regain control and it is understood that they have been putting “high-level pressure” on the Premier League’s advisory board as well as in parliament to appoint a “strong” Chairman to replace investment banker Anthony Fry who has been forced to step down due to ill health.

The feeling is that the senior figure needs to have a much firmer grip on the tiller and steer the game in a new and more healthy direction avoiding some of the recent unsavoury incidents that have tarnished the brand and the game.

Recently the EPL’s Chief Executive who is paid UKP1.8million a year was forced to apologise for sending crude emails which contained sexual innuendo. His actions were deemed “unacceptable” by both the Sports minuter and the Prime Minister.

Incredibly it is expected to take a year to find a replacement for Fry. So expect plenty of speculation as to who will finally end up with the role.

Front runners at this point in time are two candidates who already have a foot in the world of football. Heather Rabbatts who was once the Chairperson at Millwall and is currently the Football Association’s only female director, who chairs their inclusion board. Ms Rabbatts would certainly be a formidable Chair as not so long ago she accused the Premier League of having “a closed culture of sexism.”

The other mane in the running is Sir Keith Mills who helped Lord Coe mastermind the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is currently a director of Tottenham Hotspur. Since the London games Sir Keith has tired down a number of high ranking administrative roles, but his overseeing the highly successful inaugural Invictus Games is proof again that he may be the ideal candidate to take on the role. As a man who left school with no academic qualifications and who has risen to be a highly successful businessman and millionaire entrepreneur, Mills may well be ideally placed to tackle some of the egos head on, with no accusations of an old school tie, or inherited wealth.

There is no doubt that despite being the most successful league in world football, strong leadership is needed to steer the clubs through the next decade, as spending escalates to levels that many can never hope to compete or match. The game must always come ahead of one or two clubs just as clubs must always come ahead of one or two individuals.

There would be some irony in a Tottenham director trying to bring the league into check as it was former Tottenham Chairman Irving Scholar who changed the face of football in England. Scholar decided to float Spurs on the stock market, in order he claimed to enable investors to put new money into the club. When he found a restriction in the FA’s rules he decided to simply bypass it. He formed a holding company, free from the rules of the FA which applied to all clubs, and made the club, players the ground, all a subsidiary of the holding company, which he then floated on the stock exchange. Once he did this others followed suit and football found itself in an upwardly spiralling spending spree.

September 16, 2014 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

Coming Down Hard on Streakers

Many people have said New Zealand has always been a little bit behind the rest of the world, even if their rugby team is light years ahead. Proof of this may be in the sudden spate of streakers as in Australia this was all the rage in the 1970’s.

During the All Blacks’ 28-9 victory over Argentina on Saturday a female streaker took to the field before she some heavy handed treatment from the Security guards.

Rose Kupa ran on the pitch and sprinted across diagonally, making light work of the slow to react security guards before finally being brought down near the opposite 22m line. She was understandably arrested and given a pre-charge warning for disorderly behaviour, as well as banned from McLean Park for two years. By all accounts she is not too bothered as she said she had ticked something off her bucket list.

This streak came hot on the heels of another recent incident in New Zealand when a pitch invader streaked in Dunedin. Again they received some strong treatment from a Canterbury squad member who was working as a security guard.

All Blacks coach Steve Hanson raised the most pertinent point when he was quoted as saying “It’s not that big a deal is it? She entertained everybody there for about 35 seconds. My beef is how they get on (streakers in general, to the field). I think we’ve got to have a better plan with how we stop them getting on and we probably don’t have to smash them over either when we finally catch up with them.”

We are sure that most sports fans attending events look at the Security guards and would back themselves to be able to outrun them. Certainly it would appear that their vigilance of late has been lax, and maybe the strong treatment is borne out of frustration at having been outpaced. The trouble is one day someone is going to get seriously hurt. As Hansen says there really is no need for such heavy-handed treatment. 

 

 

September 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

Pride of The Community’s Life Story Not Allowed to be Shared.

Imagine rising from poverty to win an Olympic medal and becoming the toast of your nation as well as your local community. That would be an incredible journey, and one that would make a great movie.

That is exactly what happened to Indian female boxer Mary Kom. Following her success at the London Olympics where she was the only female Indian boxer to qualify, she won a bronze medal. Prior to that she is the only female boxer to have won a medal at all six world championships, she is also a five time World amateur Champion.

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra’s has made a movie called Mary Kom, which was released in over 1800 theatres across India on Friday, Sept 5. The Hindi film documents boxer Mary Kom’s journey from a small north-eastern state to winning an Olympic medal despite all odds. However while the film has been getting rave reviews, the boxer’s relatives, friends, students, followers in Manipur are unable to watch the film. The movie is banned in the north-eastern state.

The reason is in Manipur Bollywood movies are not allowed to be released in the state. Ever since Sept 2000, Hindi films are banned in Manipur by separatist militant group Revolutionary Peoples Front. The militant group believes that Bollywood films go against Manipuri values. There are believed to be six theatres in Imphal which screen only locally made Manipuri films.

Kom was philosophical about the fact that her family and local community cannot see the film when she was quoted as saying “I feel very sad that people everywhere are seeing the film made on my life but not the people in Manipur.” “It is risky to release it here so I think it is better not to do it.”

It seems a great shame that this woman who has become the pride of her community cannot screen a film that is bound to add to that pride.

 

September 9, 2014 at 11:27 am Leave a comment

Quickie, Looks to Be Heading for Divorce

After the shortest of romances the FFA Cup is headed for divorce after just one year. Which is a shame, but not totally unexpected.

First of the competition was rushed through to start in 2014 to make good on a promise made to the Asian Football Confederation when Australia joined Asia and left Oceania. The promise was that Australia would have a knockout Cup competition by 2013. That never eventuated, neither did a second tier competition to the A-League and with Asian Champions League spots in jeopardy, the National Premier Leagues competition – which is far from a National competition – and the FFA Cup were cobbled together. In fact the FFA submitted a document to the AFC stating the NPL would commence in 2014 before every state had actually signed up to it; in fact in Western Australia no club has signed up to be a part of the NPL still.

The FFA Cup was a great idea, the chance for State League/NPL clubs to pit their wits against the full times professionals. The hope like in every competition being that you draw one of the big teams your club has a chance to make some money.

Oh no, no, no, no. How wrong could everyone be. This competition has nothing to do with helping the semi-professional clubs make a little extra revenue, as is becoming abundantly clear.

The draw was “fixed” to ensure that at least one semi finalist comes from outside of the A-League, rather than leaving that possibility to ‘the romance of the cup.’ This was anti-climactic to start with, six A-League clubs drawn against each other and three eliminated immediately. Other fixtures proved convenient, and were again deliberate cost saving measures on what was always going to be a costly competition to run. That was unless a major sponsor came on board. Westfield did as a naming rights sponsor, the company owned by the Chairman of the FFA, Frank Lowy. No prize money figures have been announced and so far no club has received any windfall from playing in the competition.

In fact three clubs have been forced to move away from their home grounds to play A-League opposition. No compensation has been given to those clubs, and as many were warned their FFA Cup experience has ended up losing them money.

The reason given for them having to move was another example of a very uneven competition, and one tilted heavily against the non A-League sides. A-League teams require a certain standard of lighting, or Lux, to play against state league opponents. As the latest draw has shown this means that what was good enough for the Melbourne Knights is not good enough for the Central Coast Mariners!

After hosting their opening FFA Cup game against Melbourne Knights at their home ground Goodwin Park, Olympic FC been told that their ground is not of a suitable standard to host the Central Coast Mariners, so they have been forced to move the game to the Queensland Sports and Athletic Centre.   

This shows what a complete and utter shambles the competition is. Firstly no club participating was told of the lighting requirements and therefore had no time in which to upgrade their lights. Do non-league teams in the UK have such lighting issues? no. Now one team has been eliminated playing under such lighting while another doesn’t have to, does that give the Knights grounds to lodge a complaint? As the rules are different depending on which team is playing. 

Some clubs faced with having to hire an alternative ground have asked to play away, and hand the gate to the A-League side in return for airfares and accommodation and a set number of tickets. Something that is common in the English FA Cup if a non League side draws a club from the higher divisions. They know they stand to make more money playing away than at home and forfeit that benefit to make some money. The same rule should apply here. If the A-league side is happy to accommodate the NPL side, and give them money from the gate that they can in turn spend on new lights, or better still junior development everyone wins. However the FFA slammed down its iron fist and would not even consider such an argument. 

Not surprisingly the biggest argument from the NPL clubs is if you want to move us to a ground where the lighting is better at least compensate us. Maybe they should have simply forfeited the game to ensure the message hit home? Once again their cries fall on deaf ears, as this competition has nothing to do with romance, it is purely to satisfy a requirement. 

With Fox Sports only televising one game per round streaming was an ideal way for fans to stay in touch with the FFA Cup around the country. Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar paid for such a service so that their fans could watch their games in Western Australia. That too will cease from now on.

On Monday, all FFA Cup participants were advised by a memo from the FFA that “there will be no further opportunities for clubs and/or Member Federations to organise an online stream of any Westfield FFA Cup matches.”

In addition to this they advised “member federations” – all state bodies are in fact only Associate Members of the FFA – that they cannot house highlights or footage on their websites as it is “in breach of the broadcast and online contractual agreement.” What the hell happened to the FFA’s role of promoting the game? Some of the games streamed had viewing levels around 20,000. For teams playing who normally attract 200 through the gate this is great news. This is what the game needs. If people watch games like this on line then you have a the chance to entice them through the gates down the track. It shows there is interest there. If you kill that avenue the job of attracting fans becomes even harder. 

How many clubs read the rules and regulations before they entered the FFA Cup this year? Probably very few, as most were excited to be a part of such a competition, and with no money filtering down to them on any level they thought this was a chance to make some money. Sadly had they read the FFA Cup and competition regulations they would have seen Article 22.2  states that “FFA has the power to require any FFA Cup Match to be played at an alternative venue or date if FFA considers it appropriate and necessary (in FFA’s sole and absolute discretion). No money or other compensation shall be payable relating to any change of venue.” Had they read that how many would have bothered to take part? How many will in the future? The money to participate can be put to far better use. 

There are rumours that next season participating clubs will be asked to pay a ‘participation fee’ to help cover the undoubted high costs of running such a competition. If that is true how many can afford to be a part of such a fiasco?

The sad thing is the FFA Cup is a great concept. It is just tha it has been rushed and not thought through. It has been a marriage of convenience. There has been no love for the game and wanting to nurture club football below the A-League, it exposes those running the competition and proves the great Oscar Wilde to be so very right when he said “where there is no love there is no understanding.” The FFA Cup has proved the powers that be have no understanding of the game at grass roots and until they do this competition will fail, and so will they.  

 

August 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm 4 comments

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