A Dangerous Precedent

Australia’s hosting of the Men’s Asian Cup is less than six months away, and as excited as football fans should be that the country is hosting its first senior major tournament there are many who are feeling a little left out. Those fans who live outside of Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria, as they have not been invited to be a part of the party.

There were eyebrows raised several months ago when it was announced that Italian Alessandro del Piero was to be an ambassador for the Asian Cup. (The Wrong Choice) Many felt that of all the imports to the A-League Japan’s Shinji Ono would have been a far better choice having actually played in the tournament and won it.

If this was a strange choice the news that the organisers have appointed Media Ambassadors has to be the most bizarre yet; and raises questions over the integrity of those accepting such a role. 

Sports coverage the world over has become decidedly one-eyed in the past twenty years, and as witnessed with the recent coverage of the Commonwealth Games if you want to know about athletes from countries other than Australia, good luck. Not only does this fly in the face of Australia’s claims of being a multi cultural society, but for genuine sports fans is incredibly frustrating.

Never before have we heard of a competition having Media Ambassadors, and it raises the question as to how much honest comment viewers are going to get on the tournament. The television presenters and pundits are there to give insights and honest opinions, and not simply spruik the tournament. They are there to add to the viewing experience and impart information to the viewer. Good or bad it is their job to report it, and highlight what went wrong or right. Sure they are there to offer entertainment, but if it is a shocker of a game, the viewer can see that it is, so please do not try and hype it up as being anything else.

According to the press release Simon Hill, Les Murray, Mark Bosnich, Robbie Slater, Craig Foster and Andy Harper have all taken on such roles. As have Channel Seven’s Jim Wilson, Fox’s Adam Peacock and Tara Rushton, Stephanie Brantz of the ABC, Lucy Zelic of SBS and Network Ten’s Mel McLaughlin.

The press release went on to quote Local Organising Committee CEO Michael Brown as saying “Our media ambassadors will play a very important part in that, conveying their own sense of excitement to their viewers and fans so that collectively we create a buzz around this tournament that will never be forgotten.”

One would expect that the on air performances would be being monitored closely by the media watchdog as to whether these ambassadors are simply spouting propaganda; It is interesting to note that no journalists from the print media have been signed up.  

This is a very dangerous precedent, one that could change the way sport is viewed from hereon in. How much can what we are being told be trusted? Is this almost akin to the “cash for comments” scandal? It is too early to tell. It does however raise the question as  where independent media coverage has gone? 

It was the late Jim Morrison who said “Whoever controls the media controls the mind.” No doubt the Asian Cup organising committee are big Doors fans and have taken heed of his comment. 

   

 

August 20, 2014 at 12:22 pm 2 comments

Ladies First With Funding Windfall

Today was a good day for Women’s football in Australia. The Football Federation Australia (FFA) and FIFA announced that FFA would receive FIFA Goal Project Funding of $A536k ($US500k) over two years to deliver a National Women and Girls Football Development program.

FFA’s Head of Community and Women’s Football Emma Highwood is quoted in the FFA media statement as saying that she believes this funding will go a long way towards promoting and developing Women’s and Girls football at the grass roots level around the country.

“Through this funding we aim to increase the number of girls and women playing football in Australia and also improve the elite player pathway to ensure the continued success of our Women’s National team, the Westfield Matildas.” Highwood said “To achieve these goals we will allocate the majority of the funding to employ development officers nationwide to implement a variety of initiatives which includes the establishment of female Skills Acquisition Programs (SAP) with the necessary equipment. In addition we will look to establish a Female Coaches Mentor Program that will see an increase in the number of accredited coaches with advanced qualifications to provide them with the necessary knowledge and experience to coach at the highest levels. With the greater number of Women and Girls playing football coupled with an improvement in the expertise of the coaches at all levels of the talented player pathway, we believe that we will provide technically better players and coaches to our national teams for years to come.” 

It was after reading that many suddenly were not as enthusiastic as they might have been. For a start what then have the FFA been doing for the past ten years to develop the women’s game? Surely these were all things that should have been happening already. In fact they were a part of former CEO Ben Buckley’s ten point plan for the future of the game.

In March 2012 Buckley said “In the women’s national team program, we aim to see the Westfield Matildas successfully defend the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, once again qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and continue to hold a top-10 ranking. We are currently 10th in the world and third team in Asia. But it’s not just the senior men’s and women’s teams that we are focused on. The production line below our national teams is equally important. To deliver world-class players, we need to have world-class coaches to develop these players from a young age. Our new coach education programs have received international praise and we are providing more education and coaching opportunities than ever before from the grassroots to the professional level.” Was this all complete spin? If this was really happening one would wonder why the FFA asked for half a million dollars from FIFA.

Maybe the FFA are not as cash rich as many would have us believe. Let us not forget that the FFA also received $1 million of funding for women’s football when they launched Western Sydney Wanderers from the Labor government. That was also in 2012, where has that money gone? 

There is no doubt that the Women’s game is the most likely to bring us World Cup Glory, but they needed to invest in the Matildas and all the levels below as soon as the team returned from the quarter finals where they bowed out in Germany back in 2011. Why was this not done? There was little or no planning around the female side of the game, all of the focus was on a decking men’s team and the crucial cash cow that was qualifying for the Men’s World Cup.

If the FFA were serious about the women’s game why has it taken so long to appoint a replacement for the disastrous Hesterine de Reus. She was shown the door in April of this year. Four months later they still have not made an appointment

Emma Highwood told The Women’s Game website “I am of the view that in the next 10 years we could win the World Cup and we are very ambitious for the Matildas. What is critical for us is that we have a young squad and we really need the right person that is going to come in and take it to the next level.”

Apparently over 50 applications were received with a handful shortlisted for the interview process. The advertisement criteria, stated that applicants must possess UEFA, AFC (or equivalent) Pro Licences and have international experience either with youth representative or senior national women’s teams.

Many in the game are dumbfounded that Alen Stajic who has been committed to the women’s game for a long time and who stepped into the breach for the Asian Cup at a month’s notice and steered the team to the runners up position was not offered the role immediately. He had proved that he had settled all the unrest that existed prior to the tournament. 

Highwood explained this to the Womens Game by saying “We [the FFA] approached Ange whereas this process has been much more of an open process. We wanted to ensure we had a really competitive application process and that therefore meant we had to take more time to find the right candidate.”

There can be no mistakes this time, with only a year until the tournament starts. 

It would be nice to think that the focus will indeed turn to the women’s game and they will get the money will be spent on improving the players and not be squandered on coaching structures that already exist in most states. 

Although one cannot help feeling with FFA Cup games being played at the Perth Athletics stadium tonight and tomorrow are a case in point that money needs to be spent on bringing club facilities into the 21st century. 

Many will recall that Football West CEO Peter Hugg did apply to the FFA for a grant under the FIFA Goal Program  – A different program to the FFA’s recent funding – a couple of years ago. The application had to go through the FFA as State Member Federations cannot apply direct to FIFA. Four other member federations at the time also applied – NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria – a total of five Member Federations for one allocation to Australia.

FIFA Goal that Football West applied for was for money that essentially only available for facilities (e.g. bricks and mortar) and was limited to $500,000, it wasn’t going to buy that much. According to Football West “Lighting upgrades, an artificial pitch and similar was discussed as potential requirements in the event that it was given. Inglewood, Stirling, Vasto and Dorrien Gardens were visited by the FIFA official as examples of venues that could benefit from such investment.Football West hasn’t applied again as there have been no other ‘calls for applications’ since.”

 

 

August 19, 2014 at 7:50 pm 1 comment

Expansion that Backs Young Talent

On wednesday night’s show, Adelaide City coach Damien Mori stated that he felt his side’s victory over last year’s A-League Grand Finalists Western Sydney Wanderers in the FFA Cup showed that the A-League was ready for expansion.

Mori who was until recently the Socceroos’ highest ever goalscorer felt that they current set up in Australia was causing too many talented young players to slip through the net. A view held by many others in and around the game.

The Hyundai A-League has a habit of recycling mediocre players for the simple fact that coaches and clubs are not prepared to take a risk on young talent; they would rather go with an average player whose capabilities and limitations they are aware of. Some would say the same could be said of coaching staff.

Mori pointed out that with five foreign spots in each A-League side in the ten team league the maximum number of places for Australian players is 180. He questioned whether that is enough for Australia to live up to expectations on the international field of play.

He made an interesting point that if the FFA enforced a salary cap on new clubs based on their financial backing and capabilities, so a means tested cap, some clubs would be forced to sign young local talent. He admitted that they may struggle in the first year or so but with time they would soon be able to match the established sides. Maybe he has a point. Maybe new clubs should be invited into the league based on this form of Salary cap.

If they were though it would be important that transfer fees were implemented to ensure that those clubs who were prepared to take a risk on young players and nurture them to a point where they are desirable to bigger clubs are suitable rewarded. Although of course a player and his agent can always get around a transfer if he so wishes.

There is no doubt that the current salary cap has not had the effect everyone had hoped, where the Champions were spread across all of the clubs. Already Brisbane Roar have won three titles, Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory two each and Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners one apiece in nine seasons. So five clubs out of 13 who have participated in the A-League have won the title.

Even if we look at who the Premiers have been, the league leaders at the end of the season its a similar picture, Central Coast Mariners (2) Melbourne Victory (2), Brisbane Roar (2), Adelaide United, Sydney and Western Sydney Wanderers all with one title; six clubs out of 13.

Sadly the restriction that clubs must spend “x” amount of the salary cap has seen some players play some players inflated salaries. The truth is that some clubs have managed the salary cap better than others and these are the clubs that have seen a smaller turnover of players and have tended to be those listed, who have in turn won honours. How many of the clubs in the A-League are in truth living beyond their means with the current salary cap? How many would welcome a lowered ceiling?

Damien Mori has been around the game a long time both as a player and now with eleven years experience under his belt as a coach in South Australia. His suggestion is one that should not be simply dismissed but one that should be listened to, looked at and thought through, as it could give the Australian youngsters and our national teams the boost they currently need.

August 15, 2014 at 8:55 am 1 comment

Australian Fightback

When it comes to the world of boxing nothing is harder than fighting away from your home. Often the only way you will gain a decision is if you knock your opponent out.

Sadly in recent weeks three Australian boxers have fought in the United States but have ended being the ones to lose by knockout.

The WBC super middleweight champion, Sakio Bika, has told the media in America that he will be the one to stop the rot. He insists he’ll defeat American, Anthony Dirrell, this Saturday.

Bika and Dirrell will grace the ring for a second time, after fighting to an exciting and competitive draw last December .

“I’m going to change a lot of my style for this fight. I’m going to prove I’m better than Anthony, and this time it’ll be by a clear victory. I’ve worked so hard every day to get to where I am, and now I am a WBC champion. I have no doubt I’ll keep my belt,” Bika is quoted as saying. “Lately, Australian boxers have been defeated, but I’ll end this losing streak on Saturday. I don’t care that the fight is in California. I’ve proved I can win anywhere, and this time will be no exception.”

Another Australian looking to arrest the run of defeats is Kalgoorlie boy Daniel “The Rock” Dawson, who was on the show last night, and who has a WBA light middleweight title eliminator on August 22nd against Austin ‘No Doubt’ Trout.

August 14, 2014 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

Adelaide City Bring the FFA Cup to Life

Adelaide City’s victory over Western Sydney Wanderers in the FFA cup was just what the competition needed. It emphasised what cup competitions are all about, which team is best on the day, and sometimes which team rides its luck.

The one thing it also made clear is that the draw for the FFA Cup should not be “Fixed” as it was this year with six A-League teams playing each other to ensure that a non-A-League club is guaranteed to make the semi finals.

As the coach of Adelaide City, Damien Mori, said on Not The Footy Show last night, “People want to see NPL or State league sides playing A-League sides.” It gives them a chance to gauge where they are as a team and as individuals. It also tests the coaches, to see if they can adjust tactics against stronger and fitter players and still come out on top.

The FFA have said they have opted for midweek games as they want this to become the tradition time for FFA Cup games. The truth as everyone knows is more to do with television.

Sadly as the game in Adelaide showed the crowds in Australia are not yet used to midweek football. It struggled in the regular A-League season so what is going to make that change unless it the FFA Cup games are backed by extensive marketing campaigns. Even with many NPL sides moving their training sessions from the regular tuesday night to allow players to go and watch Adelaide City take on Western Sydney Wanderers the gate was only around 3000.

This is disappointing for the NPL sides and also unfair. These games need to be promoted and the clubs given the best opportunity to make money from such fixtures, especially as there is next to no money filtering down to the clubs from the FFA.

The win will be a big fillip to the competition, and if Adelaide City are drawn against Adelaide United in the next round then the FFA have a dream tie. It will be a dream tie as there will be next to no costs flying a team interstate and there will automatically be great interest in the game, so less need to market and promote it.

As we have stated previously the FFA Cup is a great concept, it will take time to take root in the consciousness of sports fans in Australia, but it will get there quicker with results such as this, and even quicker if next year the draw is who comes out of the hat first, and clubs are allowed to play big games such as this on the weekend.

As Damien Mori stated last night Adelaide had requested moving the fixture to a weekend and their NPL game to midweek but were told that this was not possible by the FFA.

That is not honestly in the best interests of the game. So are the powers that be really serious about making this competition work, or is it purely and simply to make good on a promise made to the Asian Football Confederation when Australia was accepted into the fold? Only time will tell, but let us hope the competition sees plenty of revisions in 2015.

August 14, 2014 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Time to Understand a Loss

The death of comedian Robin Williams has turned the spotlight on depression in the past 24 hours, and may hopefully be the catalyst for more people to take this illness seriously and look for the signs in others.

As much as the comedy world has suffered many comedians committing suicide, so too has the sporting world. In fact one scary statistic is in every country where Test cricket is played the suicide level in ex players is higher than the national average.

The most recent and high profile loss was when the ebullient during his playing days, David Bairstow took his own life. In 1997, Bairstow took an overdose of tablets,he survived this incident, but a few weeks later he hanged himself at his home in Yorkshire. The coroner recorded an open verdict, saying that he was not convinced Bairstow had meant to kill himself, and that his actions may instead have been a “cry for help”. HIs son, Jonny, has managed to continue a career in cricket and has gone on to represent England like his father.

Andrew Stoddart was an outstanding athlete. Not only did he captain England at cricket but he also along with fellow cricketers Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury (Who incidentally also took his own life) helped organise what became recognised as the first British Lions rugby union tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1888. Stoddart even took over the captaincy early in the tour when the Robert L. Seddon died in a sculling accident. In 1890 Stoddart again showing his openness to new ventures, became a founding member of the Barbarians, the invitational rugby club. Sadly he too took his own life in 1915 aged just 52.

One Olympic athlete who few would remember to have taken his own life Japanese bronze medallist at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Kokichi Tsuburaya. After the Tokyo Olympics, Kokichi suffered from an ongoing back problems. In 1968, he committed suicide by in his dormitory room where he had stayed during training for the Mexico City Olympics. In his suicide note, he thanked his parents, family and trainers for their contributions, and wished his fellow runners to do well. A rough translation of the end of his note read “I am too exhausted to run any more. Please forgive me. I’m sorry for causing my parents concern and worry, but this is for the best. Thank you very much for everything you have done for me.” He was twenty-seven years old. Many say Athletics is a lonely place and the marathon the loneliest of places, but no one will ever know how lonely and desperate Tsuburaya felt.

In football we have witnessed two very sad losses in recent times that of former Welsh International Gary Speed and German goalkeeper Robert Enke. Interestingly Speed was described after his death as a “glass half empty person” by his mother, yet few saw his suicide coming. Robert Enke’s fight with depression is covered in detail in Ronald Reng’s outstanding biography, “A Life too Short, The Tragedy of Robert Enke.” As a mark of respect for Enke after his passing, the German national team cancelled their friendly match against Chile. A minute’s silence was also held at all Bundesliga games and at his former club Benfica’s game in the Cup of Portugal. Germany also cancelled a planned training session and all interviews after his death.

However once the silence had passed life carried on as normal, and those suffering like Enke slipped once more back into the shadows of despair.

Many have tried to explain why the loss in cricket is higher than in other sports, was it the length of the game and the time players spend together, was it the limited opportunities when they retire, was it the fact that many had signed up as youngsters and had no other skill to their name on which to fall back. No doubt other sports have analysed why athletes just as people from all walks of life take their now lives when they appear to the rest of us to have so much to live for.

These may well have been some of the reasons, but they are definitely not the sole reasons. Depression is an illness and many who suffer it feel that they are left on the outer, like a fielder who is left on the boundary all afternoon in the hot sun, or a goalkeeper standing alone in his goal while play continues at the other end of the pitch. That sense of loneliness amongst many is something that is hard to explain, and at times even harder to understand.

If we want to try and lessen the loss of life due to depression we have to be more aware of the tell tale signs and become more educated and understanding. Just as we would help a team mate on the pitch so too must we help them off it.

August 13, 2014 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

Artificial Surfaces can Meet the Challenges Ahead

Last week we ran an article on how a number of high profile female footballers, such as Abby Wambach, had signed a petition to stand against FIFA making them play the World Cup next year on artificial grass. (Grass Maybe Greener But is it Grass? ). In that same article we stated how many administrators in Australia believe that artificial pitches are the way forward for the game in Australia, a move that makes perfect sense with the heat and the water shortages.

To back this up in New South Wales, it was recently announced that the Sutherland Shire Council was “to contribute up to $5 million for sports infrastructure development, with a further $3 million coming from project partners, sporting clubs and associations for the installation of synthetic playing and training sports fields across the Shire.”

They claim that the trend to upgrade football pitches to artificial surfaces has peaked in the last year.  Local grassroots and state league clubs in the shire such as the Sydney United Sports Centre, Lambert Park, Hensley Athletic Field, Lilys Football Centre, Blacktown Football Park and Arlington Oval have all made the change.

Sutherland Shire is renowned statistically for having the largest participation figures for any local football association in the Southern Hemisphere, so this is a major move, by a key football hotbed.

The Sutherland Shire Football Association General Manager Jeff Stewart who welcomes the influx of artificial surfaces was recently quoted as saying, “This is a great initiative by Sutherland Shire Council. Sutherland is an extremely active community with very limited field space available for use and absolutely no room to expand. For example, Sutherland Shire Football Association has in excess of 17,600 participants (1,420+ teams) playing football each and every weekend. The toll on the fields is enormous with some fields barely playable by half way through the football season. Council funding these publicly accessible synthetic fields, as the first of what is hopefully many such facilities, will provide an opportunity for football and other like-minded sports to play and train on a superior surface, all year round.”

Seymour Shaw Park home to the Sutherland Sharks who play in the IGA National Premier Leagues NSW competition, were the first team to make the switch to an artificial surface back in 2007. In fact Perth Glory’s youth team played a National Youth League game at the Ground against Sydney FC when the original ground was too water-logged for the game to go ahead.

At the time the club was told that the pitch was expected to get ten years wear, however it is due for an upgrade at the end of this season.

One thing that many people forget when it comes to artificial surfaces is that they too, like grass need maintaining. The extra use puts extra pressure on the surface, and therefore their life is frequently shortened. In many countries where artificial surfaces have been installed the maintenance is not carried out as regularly as required and hence the surface does not last as long as it should. Sometimes the equipment to carry out the maintenance breaks down and the repairs to that machine have been delayed or too costly, so the work is not carried out, and the pitch fails to last the expected lifespan.

There is no doubt artificial pitches have improved drastically in the last ten years and as the Sutherland shire has proved if by having artificial pitches you can indeed accommodate more people playing the game then it makes perfect sense for football to head down this path. With many councils loathe to hand over ovals that have traditionally been used for Australian Rules, football needs to take a new approach.

The Mayor of the Sutherland Shire Steve Simpson backs up such a statement and has himself said that with one in four residents in the southern Sydney local government area registered to play sport locally, a new direction was needed to meet that growing demand for quality sports fields as well as the need to provide all weather facilities. Artificial pitches were the answer.

It may go against the grain of the traditionalists, but it gives football a chance to make playing surfaces available to all who wish to play the game at any time. This could well be the move that helps truly establish football as a top line sport in Australia.

 

 

 

August 12, 2014 at 10:33 am 1 comment

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