THE CON­GRESS CIR­CUS

Australian Four Four Two - - NEWS -

By far FFA’s big­gest threat is ex­is­ten­tial. The gov­ern­ing body has been locked in a con­sti­tu­tional dead­lock for the last 12 months cast­ing a dark, omi­nous cloud over the en­tire sport. Nei­ther the FFA nor the op­pos­ing A-League clubs and play­ers’ union will give an inch. At stake is con­trol of the FFA’s con­gress, the elec­torate that votes on changes to the board, which at 10 mem­bers is cur­rently the small­est and least demo­cratic in the world. It had to be ex­panded by Novem­ber 30 (as we go to press), or FIFA threat­ened to sack the FFA board and send in a nor­mal­i­sa­tion com­mit­tee to take over. To un­der­stand how this cri­sis un­folded, you need to go back to 2003, when the old Soc­cer Aus­tralia was dis­solved and Frank Lowy was lured back to run the new FFA. Lowy was es­sen­tially given the power to do what­ever he saw fit to re­form the game, in­clud­ing an open-ended mora­to­rium on board elec­tions. Aware of the par­lous state of foot­ball in Aus­tralia at the time, FIFA granted Lowy a lim­ited ex­emp­tion to give him space to make the nec­es­sary changes. That ex­emp­tion fi­nally ran out in Novem­ber 2016, when FIFA in­formed FFA it was time to over­haul its vot­ing struc­ture. The A-League clubs, in­creas­ingly dis­grun­tled and dis­sat­is­fied with FFA’s man­age­ment of the game and al­lo­ca­tion of fi­nan­cial re­sources, saw it as their big op­por­tu­nity. FIFA wants FFA to com­ply with its statutes, which stip­u­late that leg­isla­tive bod­ies in foot­ball must be con­sti­tuted “ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy.” Specif­i­cally, this means no sin­gu­lar group of stake­hold­ers should be able to im­pose de­ci­sions on oth­ers, which has al­ways been the case with FFA in the Lowy era. The cur­rent con­gress con­sists of 10 votes – one each for the nine state fed­er­a­tions, and one for all the A-League clubs. The states have al­ways voted as a bloc, en­sur­ing FFA’s wish is their com­mand. FFA in­sists it is open to broader rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the con­gress, but its ac­tions sug­gest it is un­will­ing to cede any real power to the other stake­hold­ers. Ev­ery­one agrees Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers Aus­tralia should be part of an ex­panded con­gress, as well as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of women’s foot­ball, but the dis­pute centres on how many votes the A-League clubs should re­ceive. FFA’s first sug­ges­tion for a new-look con­gress was for the clubs to hold three votes, but that idea was quickly knocked on the head by FIFA. The clubs are de­mand­ing five; FFA will go no fur­ther than four. The dif­fer­ence is cru­cial. Five votes would give the clubs the abil­ity to block ap­point­ments to the board. Since club own­ers have col­lec­tively poured more than $200 mil­lion into the A-League, and the com­pe­ti­tion gen­er­ates an es­ti­mated 80 per cent of FFA’s rev­enue, let­ting them have a say on who runs the game seems a rea­son­able enough re­quest. The PFA has sided with the clubs through­out the whole saga. “A con­gress and by ex­ten­sion a board that grows or­gan­i­cally by fus­ing the com­mu­nity di­men­sion of the sport, the pro­fes­sional clubs and the pro­fes­sional play­ers – both men and women – can be a pow­er­ful force,” PFA chief ex­ec­u­tive John Didulica told FourFourTwo. “Un­for­tu­nately, this op­por­tu­nity has not yet been seized.” FIFA has kept a close eye on the saga, stay­ing in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with all the stake­hold­ers along the way. In Au­gust, a joint FIFA and AFC del­e­ga­tion flew to Syd­ney for talks that were sup­posed to help end the stand-off. In­stead, they got a close-up glimpse of Aus­tralian foot­ball’s dys­func­tion, watch­ing on as Lowy twice wielded his power over the state fed­er­a­tions to in­ter­vene in ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the clubs, PFA and state fed­er­a­tions, just as con­sen­sus had been struck. FFA called an an­nual gen­eral meet­ing for dead­line day – Novem­ber 30 – when it failed to push through a con­gress model that was ve­he­mently op­posed by the clubs and the PFA. When it failed, Lowy blamed those vot­ing against it for want­ing to take foot­ball back to the “bad old days”... spark­ing a fu­ri­ous backlash from the foot­ball com­mu­nity. FIFA’s mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions com­mit­tee was due to sit in the first week of De­cem­ber where it would de­cide the next step. If the com­mit­tee isn’t sat­is­fied, it will top­ple the Lowy regime. While the clubs would rather take their chances with nor­mal­i­sa­tion, rather than con­tinue un­der the cur­rent FFA lead­er­ship, many fear the rep­u­ta­tional dam­age to the game. Af­ter Lowy’s fi­nal out­burst though, killing all hopes of ne­go­ti­a­tion, the end of his fam­ily’s FFA dy­nasty now seems as­sured.

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