I’ve written quite a bit about governance of cricket in Australia – and I’m pleased to see the former Chairman, David Peever, fall on his sword along with others – as well as football at a global level, but I want to turn briefly to football in Australia.
If you’re from outside Australia reading this, you probably think ‘What does it matter? It’s not a big sport in Australia.’
You’d be wrong.
Football (and to be perfectly clear, I’m talking about the round ball code), has got 1.7 million participants, the highest of all team sports; the highest rate of participation in any team sport of 5-14 year olds; and the fastest growing team sport for women and girls. I know the world sporting environment pretty well, and when I say Australia’s professional sporting environment is competitive, it is one of the most competitive in the world – if not the most – so these figures are remarkable.
What most people do not appreciate is that Australia is the only country in the world with four professional football codes; and it has a relatively small population of around 25 million. You can imagine how competitive it is.
To cut a long story short, after three years of argy-bargy, back-and-forth, bringing FIFA in to arbitrate on good governance (no, I’m not making that bit up), last month there were some important governance changes to football in Australia that make it a bit more democratic. Please note: a bit more. There’s still a long way to go before we get to the benchmark #NewFIFANow set out in its guiding principles three years ago.
What it means is that the one family that has overseen the sport for 15 years and run it without any transparency or accountability (including over their dismal World Cup bid) is now out, and new directors will be elected, including a new President.
What I find interesting is that hardly anyone is talking about these issues – in stark contrast to cricket.
Why is this? Is it because of the lack of space afforded to the game in mainstream media? Is it the lack of football writers and broadcasters in paid employment?
The only one writing with any knowledge or depth about these issues is my friend, Bonita Mersiades, through her football news website, FootballToday.news but she would be the first to admit that it has a very small and niche audience.
It’s good to see two of the candidates, former player Craig Foster and former referee Mark Shield, at least put something out in public. Foster, in particular has done an outstanding job with a website known as #believeinourgame.
I find it incredible that the paid football media, and fans for that matter – who are usually so passionate in their opinions – are so quiet.
It’s such a contrast to the discussion on cricket where there’s something or someone with an opinion every day, even people from other sports! Consider this from the President of Geelong Footy (Aussie Rules) club:
“What I do think is completely astonishing is that decisions were made about the composition of the board for the next three years before any of the people who were voting had a chance to read the assessments that were made. From a governance point of view, I think that was not correct.”
He’s right of course, but where is the public discourse on football?
We’re talking about the biggest sport in the world, bar none; the most popular sport in Australia by way of participation. It’s the sport with two of the countries most popular national teams in the Socceroos and the Matildas, who have made something like 12 World Cups between them. And we have silence.
In ten days, the new Congress at Football Federation Australia will take part in the first proper Board election this century, and there is virtually nothing from all but niche, football-specific websites.
It’s not good enough Australian football media, or the general Australian sports media.
To the Australian football community, it’s time to speak out, speak up, and influence your game’s future through the few handfuls of people who – for better or worse – represent you. Or else, stop whingeing if it all goes wrong again because, if no-one is listening now because you’re not exercising your people power, they certainly won’t then.