THE CONGRESS CIRCUS
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.