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 In looking ahead to an eagerly anticipated new year of football in 2017, there are some big hopes as well as challenges and opportunities to progress the transition of football at all levels.

1.  FFA Cup

There is no doubting that the 2016 edition of the FFA Cup went to an even higher level of excitement, drama and magic. However, another contentious hosting decision for the final took the gloss off on-field successes. No criteria have been developed and applied consistently, so it seems that once again projected TV ratings have helped guide FFA in its narrow approach to venue selection.

In the lead-up to the final I spoke at length with Han Berger, previously National Technical Director and now on the board of Sydney FC. His on-the-record view was that in transition to finding a permanent home, the final should be played over two legs – so home and away. I agree this option would be much fairer, add to the drama, increase media exposure, and attract more fans and extra revenue.

FFA must develop and apply a proactive, far sighted and transparent policy for hosting of the final. All clubs and fans deserve much better from the national body, so it’s time for the FFA Board to set this direction before the preliminary qualification rounds start in the first half of 2017.

2.  Grassroots football development

In an even more important strategic policy area, the funding and support for grassroots football development has been languishing under FFA since its inception. It has allocated inadequate resources for implementation of the National Curriculum and continues to financially levy all registered players at the local level. The new TV broadcasting deal provides an ideal opportunity to redirect funding, which means quarantining a large funding pool that is returned to local stakeholders.

Australia is still in the relatively early stages of technical development. In response, the national body should have a plan which gradually increases the proportion of its total available funds to eventually reach 30 per cent allocated for grassroots and youth development.

Such commitment would match what many advanced football nations have long undertaken, and yet is even more important for Australia’s long term football development for men, women, boys and girls.

3. FIFA reform

Pressure must continue to be applied on FIFA for genuine reform right across and through the organisation. There must be further pursuit of investigations into corruption associated with the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and other areas of mal-administration in senior ranks of football at FIFA as well as some Confederations and national associations.

Major issues still remain unresolved for hosts Qatar and Russia, with human rights abuses associated with stadium construction and systemic State-sanctioned drug cheating respectively not being properly challenged by FIFA. Unless the governing body applies strict conditions and, if necessary, sanctions then accountability will fall short of expectations of most stakeholders and billions of fans around the world.

In a recent political distraction, the President of FIFA Gianni Infantino put on the agenda expansion of the World Cup finals to as many as 48 teams.

This seems like continuing the culture of patronage to help sure-up support from Confederations and countries, many of whom would potentially benefit the most through increased allocation of qualification spots.

4.  A-League expansion

A-League expansion has to date been poorly handled by FFA, including the disastrous experiments of teams in North Queensland and the Gold Coast.

The folly of a proposal for a new team in southern Sydney has given way to the development of criteria to be released early in the new year to guide prospective bids from consortiums to establish franchises. I am convinced that our national capital must be a high priority for initial expansion to 12 teams; to not do so would be a wasted opportunity from strategic, grassroots community engagement, and political perspectives.

5. Policing of football

The policing of football in Australia remains by and large in the dark ages, especially in NSW and Victoria. A policy shift is needed by FFA in partnership with State police agencies and stadium managers.

Evidence based approaches can adapt and apply from successful model frameworks developed in Europe and the United Kingdom. We must move from heavy handed law enforcement to engagement where fans groups are empowered to self regulate and where the use of force by police and physical security intervention are seen as the last resort to deal with unruly behaviour.

By contrast, police in South Australia seemed to have taken on board some more progressive principles of crowd management in policing of the 2016 Grand Final in Adelaide, with very few if any incidents of note before, during or after the game.

6.  What’s ahead on-the-field

There is little awareness in Australia that Vanuatu qualified for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup finals to be held in Korea during May and June. This will truly be the biggest tournament that any national squad from that island nation has participated in since its foundation in 1934 and admission to FIFA in 1988. Still recovering from the devastating death and destruction of Tropical Cyclone Pam in March 2015, we wish Vanuatu well as one of the representatives from Oceania.

In the 2017 Asian Champions League, the Western Sydney Wanderers will campaign again with hopes of giving the tournament another huge shake after winning the title in 2014. Meanwhile, the Adelaide Reds will want to find some form ahead of competing in a tough group which includes Jiangsu Suning featuring Socceroos central defender Trent Sainsbury. Brisbane Roar is not expected to win through from the play-offs stage, unless John Aloisi can conjure up an away win in a likely fixture with Shanghai Shenhua.

The Socceroos will be aiming to secure direct qualification for Russia 2018 by bouncing back to top form in their five remaining Group B fixtures, with the advantage of three at home and one on neutral territory. I am already booked for attending all of these games, and especially looking forward to visiting Iran in March where we play Iraq.

It is critical that Australian fans make sure that both the Sydney Football Stadium (Allianz) and Adelaide Oval is filled to capacity to help create a home fortress mentality and intimidating atmospheres.

In the meantime, I wish all readers and fellow contributors of Football Today a fulfilling and peaceful new year.


Categories: Opinion | A-League | Local | Football Business

ffa cup, football development, fifa reform, a-league expansion

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