Congress Review Working Group report unpacked
In summary, it's good for women, good for the PFA, and puts the onus on football people to get football right - BUT it could have been better. We call it 'Reform Lite'07 August 2018 | Bonita Mersiades
It looks pretty and has lots of words and adjectives, not to mention some flowery language in the Foreword and Acknowledgements - just as one might expect from a process overseen by a lawyer and assisted in a secretariat role by another lawyer - but the report of the Congress Review Working Group (CRWG) has three big winners compared with the current situation: women, the PFA and the election and appointment of FFA Board members.
What it doesn't do is go boldly into the future with best practice governance reform. Instead, it tweaks the status quo with a few more votes and a few more people without broadening the base in any genuine way.
From a model of 9+1 being nine member federations and one A-League club representative, the Congress will be expanded to 9+9+1+10 with 100 votes between them being:
- nine member federations with 55% of the vote
- nine A-League club representatives with 28% of the vote
- one PFA member holding 7% of the vote, and
- ten Women's Council members with 10% of the vote.
On the face of it, with one PFA member, it may not appear that PFA's position has improved from the aborted negotiations of last year but amongst the ten women nominees to the new Women's Football Council, the PFA can nominate three, effectively giving them four members on Congress with 10% of the vote. The member federations and A-League clubs also nominate three individuals with the chairperson of the Council to be appointed by a new Nominations Committee.
'Pathway to Congress'
There is a 'pathway to Congress' for special interest groups (SIG) which takes at least two years for the groups to 'prove' themselves to be good enough for 'qualifying membership'.
While it is understandable that new groups such as the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), the Football Supporters Association (FSA) and Football Coaches Australia (FCA) should meet certain membership, legal and regulatory criteria - as well as some runs on the board - some of the criteria set would not be met by any of the existing stakeholders (including the PFA), and appear designed to ensure that the existing stakeholders, plus the PFA, remain those wielding power for as long as possible.
The AAFC, representing NPL clubs nationally, have been given special status by being considered to be on the 'right' pathway to Congress since July last year. That means they can take a partial (non-voting) 'qualifying' seat at the full Congress in July next year.
Other SIGS, such as coaches and supporters, may also be considered for full membership after a four-year qualifying period under qualifying criteria set out in the report.
New A-League clubs would also not receive Congress membership until they also meet the 'Pathway to Congress' requirements, including the two-year waiting period.
Each new member added to the Congress over time would receive two votes with a further governance review to be conducted once a third SIG is added or within four years, whichever comes first.
The report notes that the FFA Board does not agree with this model, with FFA last week stating that it sought:
- a bigger and broader membership in line with international benchmarks;
- embedded and genuine gender equality, from the FFA Board down through all football institutions in Australia;
- the immediate admission of Special Interest Groups (SIGs);
- a balanced Congress which reflects the significance and contribution of community and professional football;
- clear delineation between the role of Congress and the responsibilities of an independent FFA board.
The 103-page report (47 pages of which are annexures and 28 of which are background and context) also sets out the qualifying criteria for nomination and election to the FFA Board with a Nominations Committee to be the second new Constitutional Committee, along with the Women's Council.
The Nominations Committee is to be accountable to the FFA Congress, and not the Board, with the Congress to "ratify" any proposed appointee to the Board. For elected Board members, a simple majority (50%) applies where there are two or fewer candidates; if there are two or more vacancies and more than two candidates, the person attracting the least number of votes is eliminated first and so on until there is an equal number of vacancies and candidates.
It is also recommended that there be independent regulatory and judicial committees (as is mostly the case now, although 'independence' could be debated), as well as a number of standing committees, in line with FIFA's committee structure. The report states this is necessary "to actively deliver impactful conduits of experience, information flow and influence in key areas of football" (yes, a lawyer has to have written that sentence).
While the Women's Football Council was widely expected - not having one would be akin to forsaking motherhood - the CRWG shoots themselves in the foot by the apparent concession that members of the Women's Football Council do not have to be women.
On the one hand, they state that there is a need for greater gender inclusivity in football in Australia - something we have advocated through these web pages - but on the other hand, there is a formula about how many women must be included in the nominees for the Women's Football Council. For example, if a group is entitled to three members, at least one must be a woman; if entitled to four, at least two must be women.
The CRWG notes that the football community broadly needs "to implement other gender equality dimensions to move towards a whole of game gender equality approach." The report states that these 'dimensions' are:
- societal relations;
- production and power relations; and
- emotional relations.
The CRWG has adopted parts of the AAFC's recommendations in this area noting that gender equality must be normalised through the removal of barriers and social isolation, together with a monitoring and reporting system to enhance accountability. The CRWG recommends a 40/40/20 gender representation on the Board and standing committees, 50/50 representation to Congress each year, and minimum numbers of women for the Women's Council.
Reflecting a view that we have prosecuted strongly (and almost exclusively) through these web pages, and consistent with #NewFIFANow guiding principles, the CRWG recommends greater financial transparency of FFA accounts consistent with International Financial Reporting Standards - which is the standard to which even FIFA now adheres.
Pathway to an 'alternative' A-League model
Perhaps reflecting the short timeframe in which the CRWG had to come to any conclusions, the thorny issue of A-League management has been hand-balled to another working group to be known as the 'New Leagues Working Group' (NLWG).
The role of the NLWG is to come up with a new governance model for the A-League, W-League and NYL for agreement by the new FFA Congress and FFA Board by the end of March next year. The proposal is for the new entity to be a self-governing entity in time for the 2019-20 season operating under license to FFA - another move we have long advocated in these web pages. The NLWG is also to take account of integration with the new national second division yet it does not propose including AAFC on its membership.
The report notes that FFA does not agree with this proposal.
The report's recommendations represent incremental, rather than radical, change and do not position FFA governance as 'best practice' - just as one might expect from a group required to obtain a compromise agreement, with a specific outcome in mind, within a relatively short timeframe.
It is disappointing that, rather than take the opportunity to expand the Congress to be representative of the entire stakeholder group, the stakeholder group has increased by only two (women and the PFA) and the number of individuals with a seat at the table from ten to 29, who account for 100 votes.
It maintains the FFA Congress as a slightly more inclusive exclusive domain and, although a 'pathway to Congress' is set out, it reads more like CRWG members didn't quite want to share the management of the game with some of the SIGs who might press for it. Indeed, as we have earlier reported, we understand at least one party to the CRWG objected to the presence of some parties in the room on the basis that they had been in existence for 25 years and others had not. If true, it demonstrates a misunderstanding of the development of the game and the imperative for improved democracy in football governance structures.
By way of example, other football associations have larger congresses: the FA has 131 members; the US Soccer National Council has more than 500 delegates including fan representatives; and the French Football Federation has over 100 also.
It is also notable that there is hardly any mention of supporters or fans, and their role in a governance structure representative of stakeholders, and the only mention of the words 'second division' are in relation to the NLWG and the descriptive passages of AAFC's remit.
On the plus side:
- A recognition that more needs to be done in terms of gender equality is welcome, although let's see if it translates into practice.
- Even though it's limited to 29 people only, this model does hand the responsibility for football back to 'football people' by placing more power and emphasis on the Congress, as opposed to the Board. That is not to say the FFA Board will not continue to have legal, statutory and fiduciary responsibilities as a Board, but there is more scope and requirement for accountability between the Board and the Congress.
- On balance, it's better than what we currently have and it gives most groups - even the well and truly forgotten stakeholders such as fans - an opportunity for greater involvement, although only once SIGs 'prove' themselves to the rest of the Congress.
From a working group that was referred to by its members as 'Normalisation Lite', it's therefore not surprising that we've been handed 'Reform Lite'.
The chair of the CRWG, Judith Griggs, will present the report to the FIFA Member Associations Committee on 20 August in Zurich. We can expect it to be rubber-stamped.
The recommendations then return to an extraordinary general meeting of the FFA Congress - with its current ten members - on 7 September. If not passed by a 75% majority, then the recommendations are lost and FIFA has a decision to make.
As we were the first to report last week, there can only be one logical conclusion if this was to be the case, or else FIFA itself faces further ridicule - and that is to impose a solution via 'Normalisation Heavy' or suspend FFA from FIFA.
It's unclear whether FFA Chairman, Steven Lowy, has really thought this through. After all, it was he, his Board and his management who declared that 'FIFA has reformed' - so much so, they convinced the Australian Government to hand over yet more money for a Women's World Cup Bid - and who enthusiastically supported the current FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the election in February 2016.
Ultimately, as always with football, and as I and my other #NewFIFANow co-founders prosecuted as far back as 2014 in relation to the game at the very top, it boils down to this. What is more important to these people? Their role in football, or what's best for football?
History will decide.
You can read the report here. Please note this is an update of our initial report, published at 12.30pm (30 minutes after the report was made available).
FFA has subsequently issued a statement which we have reproduced here.
ffa congress, football governance, a-league