‘The Board of Football Federation Australia today resolved to expand the Hyundai A-League,’ read the media release.

'“We believe the Hyundai A-League has the capacity to be at least a 12 team competition, but our approach needs to be prudent and planned,” Mr Lowy said.’

That was ten years ago. Almost to the day. It was a media release issued on behalf of the FFA Board on 21 February 2008. The ‘Mr Lowy’ quoted was not Steven, but (now) Sir Frank.

Last Friday – 3,648 days later on 16 February 2018 – the FFA Board issued another media release this time stating that the FFA Board “have targeted the 2019-20 season as the start date for two new clubs” in the A-League, with more detail to come next month for a decision on the two clubs later this year.

There was no mention of a national second division in the FFA Board's strategic discussions – a somewhat curious omission considering FFA management and AAFC are jointly convening a meeting with state federations on Wednesday afternoon to establish (yet another) working group to determine the criteria for participation in a national second division.

But if the ten year standstill in A-League expansion is forgivable on the basis that it was a different chairman, different board, different CEO and (mostly) different management between 2008 and 2018, Mike Tuckerman makes the point that the same chairman, same board, same CEO and same management made more or less the same announcement about expansion of the A-League 18 months ago.

Considering much of the situation in which the game finds itself today came about in the first place due to the unhappiness of the A-League clubs in the current leadership and management of the game, it’s fair to ask why FFA has not done something about A-League expansion by now.

It could be argued that it’s not merely an issue of standing still, but going backwards between the bullish days of February 2008 to the decidedly low-key approach today.

For example, in September 2009, 19 months after the first announcement, with Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury in play to bolster the failed World Cup bid, and Melbourne Heart (now City) announced as the 11th team, the FFA Board issued another media release announcing the 12th A-League license to a western Sydney consortium. That particular hastily put together consortium was later aborted in favour of FFA initially owning Western Sydney Wanderers with the help of taxpayers’ money that was meant for Football NSW. FFA also noted in its September 2009 media release that Canberra was “an obvious priority” for the 13th license.

What's changed since then? How many consultancy studies do we need to figure out the how, what, when and where of expansion? How many working parties are required? Why is the FFA Board only now mentioning a non-specific “new corporate framework” for the A-League and W-League?

Just what has everyone been doing all this time?

It appears that the answer to that question is tied-up with the visit this week of FIFA and AFC.

Tomorrow, they start a three-day suite of meetings in Sydney to discuss a process for convening a working group to resolve governance issues, identified as the second (after A-League expansion) of the two major priority issues for the FFA Board. FFA suggests that it has been hamstrung from doing anything on its day-to-day business because of the existential angst over the FFA Congress.

Their media statement of last Friday also attempted to position themselves as the lead agency in what will become a ‘Congress Review Working Group’.

However, it is understood FFA has observer status only at the meetings with stakeholders and FIFA/AFC. The FFA Board may wish to fall back on Australian Corporations Law in arguing their pre-eminence in the football hierarchy locally, but FIFA and the AFC are well aware that the FFA Board serves at the pleasure of FFA’s members.

So far, the FFA Board has been backed by the majority of the state federations and also enjoys the support of the Federal Government, with a spokesperson for the Sports Minister (and Deputy Nationals Leader), Bridget McKenzie indicating that they do not expect the Working Group to displace the current FFA Board.

The fact that FFA has recently decided to invite representatives of supporters, referees, coaches and women to meet with FIFA/AFC for 45 minutes each is not due to a Damascene conversion to democracy, transparency and accountability but rather a token ‘tick the box’ exercise to say “Look at what we’ve done.

FFA also attempted to allocate AAFC just 45 minutes for their discussion with FIFA/AFC, and did not think it appropriate for AAFC to attend the joint session on the final day. Perhaps indicative of the attitude with which FIFA might approach this week’s talks, their lead negotiator, Luca Nicola, overruled FFA on the matter.

So what can we expect once the visitors have taken to the skies for their return journey home on Thursday night?

Don’t expect Steven Lowy, Greg Griffin and the state federation presidents to be holding hands singing kumbaya. They won’t.

Unless anything dramatic happens, what we’ll get is a process and probably enough time to ensure that the existing members of the FFA Board and the state federation presidents receive their generous complimentary ticket allowance to the 2018 World Cup - which, to be frank, is all that some of then want anyway.

Meanwhile, we await the further detail on A-League expansion – and hope that this time, the FFA actually delivers on its announcement.

Categories: Analysis | A-League | Football Business

a-league, ffa congress

You might also like: