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With FIFA making its stance clear last week that it wants and expects the FFA Congress to agree to the recommendations of the Congress Review Working Group (CRWG), the FFA Chairman Steven Lowy once again reiterated the FFA Board’s concerns with the CRWG’s report. 

Where we’re at

To recap, amongst other things, the CRWG has recommended a new governance structure which broadens the existing FFA Congress from two stakeholder groups and 10 individuals with one vote each (nine from the state/territory based member federations and one from the A-League) to four stakeholder groups, 29 individuals and 100 votes between them. See Table 1 below for details.

The report of the CRWG was considered by FIFA’s Associations Committee last week. The Associations Committee gave clear directions to the existing FFA Congress that they support the recommendations, want them voted on, and an update report given to them in time for their next meeting on 26 September. 

What’s happening now

The stakeholders and individuals currently comprising the FFA Congress are being furiously lobbied by all sides as to how they should vote at the extraordinary general meeting in September.

The member federations (MFs) that are in-step with the CRWG recommendations are NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia which account for 82% of all registered players in Australia.

Those who are firmly behind the FFA Board are the ACT and Northern Territory which account for 5% of all registered players. 

The ‘swing’ MF voters that may be persuaded either way are thought to be Northern NSW and Tasmania who account for 13% of all players (11% in NNSW and 2% in Tasmania). 

The member clubs of one minor federation, whose President is not known for a collegiate approach to decision-making and who has not consulted his executive at any stage of deliberations, are actively considering a breakaway federation as they are not happy with the stance he is taking, nor his conduct. The executive of another minor federation is parroting the FFA Chairman’s public statements and the FFA media release circulated on 23 August as if it’s their original thinking. 

In light of this activity, we thought it worthwhile to take a look at the FFA Board’s concerns and assess their position based on the CRWG report, the FFA Constitution, the Corporations Act, the 2003 Crawford report into the governance and management of the game, and good governance principles. 

1.  The proposed Congress model

As noted above, the CRWG has recommended a broadening of the FFA Congress from two stakeholder groups and 10 individuals with one vote each to four stakeholder groups, 29 individuals with 100 votes between them.

The two new stakeholder groups are Professional Footballers’ Australia (PFA) and a new Women’s Council. 

Stakeholder GroupCurrentProposed
Member Federations90%55%
A-League clubs10%28%
PFA0%7%
Women's Council0%10%
TOTAL100%100%

The CRWG report also allows for the dilution of all voting proportions over time as new special interest groups (SIGs) – for example, the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), Football Supporters Australia (FSA) and others – are added. 

Once three SIGs have full voting status, the CRWG recommends a recalibration of the Congress. 

2.  Women’s Council

The Women’s Council is a point of disagreement.

Current situation

While the FFA Board has at times had up to 40% of its members comprised of women, it has not attempted to introduce policy or initiatives aimed at improving gender equality in governance and management within football more broadly. The recommendations of the 2002 Crawford report of the game included the establishment of a Women’s Standing Committee but this was never implemented the way it was intended. However, a women’s advisory committee has existed from time-to-time. 

Proposed

The CRWG proposal is that the Women’s Council will be a  comprised of an independent chair and nine members, made up by three nominees each from MFs, A-League clubs and the PFA. The CRWG report notes that if the nine non-independent members voted with their ‘base’, it would see votes allocated as per the table blow. 

Stakeholder GroupCurrentProposed

Notional allocation

of Women's Council votes

Member Federations90%55%58%
A-League clubs10%28%31%
PFA0%7%10%
Women's Council0%10%1%
TOTAL100%100%100%

FFA’s position is that the Women’s Council will not help achieve gender equality in the governance structures of the game beyond the Congress itself. The FFA Board sees the Women’s Council as “a construct to plug a gap”.

The FFA Board’s recommendation was instead for Special Interest Groups (SIGs) – for example, AAFC, coaches and referees – to have “expedited introduction” to the FFA Congress with probationary conditions, as “a way of reflecting the diversity within the interests of the game”. 

FFA’s position is valid in policy terms, and is one supported by AAFC which nonetheless also recognised the ‘real politik’ of the situation. 

AAFC noted in one of its submissions to the CRWG that appropriate gender representation needed to be addressed at the top end of the game as well as at NPL and grassroots level with an education program, cultural change and “a redress of mistakes made by the current administration”. 

3.  Composition of the Board

According to the FFA Board’s media release of 23 August:

“The fact remains that under the proposed CRWG model, the independence of the Board will be compromised.Acting as a bloc, as they have done throughout the consultation process, the professional game and only two of the States could control the Congress and therefore the election of directors to the FFA board.”

Current situation

The FFA Board can comprise up to nine members who can be elected or appointed, with no more than six elected and no more than three appointed. 

The current situation in terms of the election of directors is the opposite to the situation the FFA Board outlines in its objection. The ‘professional game’ as the FFA Board terms it has absolutely no capacity to nominate or influence the election of directors to the FFA Board. Ninety per cent of the vote is held by the MFs with only10% by the A-League clubs. 

For an individual to be nominated for an electedposition, they must have two nominators and one seconder from within the Congress. An individual is appointedto a Board position by the Board acting alone without any reference back to FFA Congress.  

Proposed

Under the model proposed by the CRWG, a nominee for the Board can be made by one member of Congress but must be seconded by another from a different stakeholder group. In other words, Tasmania and the PFA, or the A-League clubs and Northern NSW, could nominate and second a candidate. 

The individual nominees are then submitted to a Nominations Committee which assesses each nominee against ‘qualifying criteria and core competencies’ set out in the CRWG report. If the individual passes this assessment, the candidature proceeds. This applies in respect of elected members, with the current balance between elected and appointed directors (6-3) to remain the same. 

The FFA Board can still nominate Appointed Directors, but they will require ratification by FFA Congress by a prescribed (60%) majority. 

4.  Nominations Committee

Current situation

In the current FFA set-up, the elected directors are nominated by Congress members but, on the basis of experience, the FFA Congress has little real input to the nominees. 

For example, in 2015, when three new directors were required for election, C-level head-hunting firm Egon Zehnder conducted a so-called “nationwide search” which resulted in the identification of three directors. One was Steven Lowy, the son of the incumbent, and the other two had close business and/or personal affiliations with the Lowy family. 

Proposed

A new Nominations Committee will be established under the FFA Constitution chaired by one of the Appointed Directors of the FFA Board. There will be four other members, who will change annually, one each from the MFs, the A-League clubs, the PFA andSport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission). 

5.  ‘Professional’ v ‘Amateur’ football

The FFA Board says that the proposed model: 

  • “excessively favours professional football” at the expense of the ‘amateur’ game
  • gives the A-League clubs sufficient votes to veto changes to the FFA Constitution
  • the PFA has “disproportionate” voting representation – 10% compared with MFs with 6.1% each, and
  • will lead to decisions that are not in the best interests of the game overall, not least because seven of the nine A-League clubs “are owned or controlled by non-Australian interests”. 

Current situation

As noted above, the ‘amateur’ game, that is the MFs, control 90% of the FFA Congress and have done so for the past 15 years. 

The FFA Congress battles arose in the first place as the A-League clubs viewed this as imbalanced, yet FFA has made no move at any time in the past 15 years to address the imbalance. It is only in the context of the CRWG that FFA has made any moves to broaden the FFA Congress. 

The imbalance is even more pronounced when considered against the recommendations of the 2003 Crawford report. Amongst other things, Crawford outlined a proportional representation for the MFs and an independent entity to manage the A-League competition. 

The FFA Board ignored those recommendations and instead:

  • each of the MFs have had one vote each, which has significantly favoured the likes of smaller federations and even more significantly disadvantaged NSW which has 43% of all registered participants, and
  • despite the huge investment in the game by the A-League clubs over 14 seasons, FFA has managed and made decisions about the competition centrally and limited the clubs’ voice and sphere of influence within the game overall. 

Proposed

The recommended structure is aimed at redressing this imbalance. 

It does not give a balance of power to any of the four stakeholder groups that will make up the Congress. In fact, the ‘amateur’ game continues to hold a simple majority (55%) of power, or 58% if their three nominated Women’s Council members are included. 

Under the recommendations, no single stakeholder group can “veto” a special resolution such as changes to the Constitution. At least two stakeholder groups must be party to denying a special resolution. This applies to the A-League clubs, as equally as it does to the MFs. 

The FFA Board’s response to this is that the ‘professional’ game (the A-League clubs and the PFA) can vote as a bloc to deny a special resolution – but this not only ignores the fact that any two stakeholder group can combine to do this, but it is also illustrated perfectly by the situation we are in today in respect of the MFs. 

Comment

While the FFA Board asserts that the ‘professional’ game voting in a bloc would not act in the best interests of the game, they present no evidence to support this assertion. It is fear-mongering and dog-whistling - the biggest dog whistle being the foreign ownership of seven of the nine A-League clubs (by the way, we only get six, but that’s not important at this point). 

Putting aside that it was the FFA Board which approved the licenses to these foreign entities in the first place, why would any of the clubs that are investing their money in the game not want to see football become a commercial success and reach its full potential? FFA bases its whole strategic direction around the concept of a ‘football ecosystem’; but the FFA Board seems not to recognise that the A-League is only as good as the sum of all the parts of that ecosystem.

In any case, what the A-League clubs have argued for is a fairer share of the resources, not a cash grab, and a more reasonable say in the running of the game commensurate with their skin in the game. 

The A-League clubs do not receive a fair share of A-League revenues now; they are not able to make decisions about the operation of their own competition; and they take all the financial risk but have next to no say in the running of the competitions in which they participate. The FFA Chairman’s former retail property company would never have countenanced such a business model. 

When FFA sends around 50 staff to the World Cup in Russia for 4-6 weeks (not including those who were on holiday and went at their own expense); when some members of David Gallop’s executive team reportedly receive salaries in excess of $700,000 pa; when a former Asian Cup executive receives a $1 million plus bonus; when former FFA Board members receive consultancy fees for non-specified services of more that $500,000 over three years; when the A-League staff count is twice the size of that for the English Premier League, the view is that there is plenty of scope for improved financial management in the organisation. Money that could be freed up not just for a fairer distribution of funds to the professional game, but to boost grassroots and the less high profile national teams, and to stop the great big player tax on grassroots football participants. 

What these changes require for the FFA Congress and Board is a change of mindset to a more democratic, transparent and accountable structure, processes and culture. 

Instead of a Board (or Chairman) setting policy and strategic direction from on high with little scope for debate and the FFA Congress merely rubber-stamping whatever is put before it by the Board, the Board and the Congress will need to take account of the different interests of their stakeholders. 

The FFA Congress is akin to the operation of the Senate in the Westminster system where, acting as a house of review, it is generally necessary for the parties to be engaged and persuaded in order for policy to be set. 

In this regard, the small MFs would no doubt appreciate that the CRWG members didn’t recommend a return to the Crawford principles and the concept of proportional representation, but instead adhered to the foundation principles of the Australian federation. In other words, just like the Senate, NSW gets the same number of votes as Tasmania. 

The FFA Board fails to mention that the CRWG report also recommends additional direct input from a number of stakeholder groups, including grassroots and community football through a specific standing committee providing advice directly to the Board and management of FFA. Just like the women's committee and others, despite Crawford recommending the establishment of a number of standing committees 16 years ago, the FFA Board and management has failed to do so. 

6.  Trading of political favours

According to the FFA Board’s statement of last week:

“The governance model advocated by the CRWG leads to the trading of political favours between a few individuals, who would then control the many. The FFA Board remains concerned that our game will not be best served if the commercial game overly influences who sits on the FFA board.”

Current situation

Over the past 15 years, the FFA Board has reigned supreme over the decision-making of football in the country. The FFA Board has been chaired by a member of the same family for 15 years. With a couple of exceptions only, every single individual who has served on the Board in that time has a fiduciary, personal or business relationship with the family of either of the two chairmen.  

Proposed

Do alliances occur in a member-based organisation? Yes, of course they do. 

The difference under the CRWG recommendations is that there would be checks and balances in place within a more democratic and representative framework, and the FFA Congress as a whole would have a greater engagement with, and influence on, the administration of the sport of which they are custodians.

Comment

Annual general meetings of the FFA Congress have not been robust forums for questioning or discussion. In fact, they have been characterised as ‘tick and flick’ events for which an hour has been allocated either before or after a buffet lunch.

There is no more greater evidence of this than the fact that not one of the existing stakeholders has ever held the FFA Board to account on just one simple and obvious issue related to the tainted World Cup bid: that is, as the payment didn’t come from government money, just where did the USD$462,500 paid to Jack Warner come from and why were we giving it to him?

When it comes to “trading political favours”, pots, kettles and black come to mind. 

The FFA Chairman and some members of his Board have regularly and actively been in contact with CRWG members and other MFs throughout the CRWG process and in the three years before this, alternatively cajoling, making promises, or reading the riot act according to those who have been at the receiving end.

The current and former FFA Chairmen, or people acting on their behalf, have leaned on their media and Zurich networks to intervene at different steps along the way.

Only recently, as we exclusively reported, the FFA Chairman attempted to call on a “political favour” by contacting FIFA heavyweights to attempt an intervention in the consideration by the FIFA Associations Committee of the CRWG report.  

7.  Insufficient consensus

The FFA Chairman said: 

“Last week I called on all parties to come together to properly analyse the real issues at stake here. It is vital that all parties agree on a way forward, for the good of the whole of our game and as it stands today, we do not have sufficient consensus.”

Comment

How long does Steven Lowy need? And should he be indulged with any more time?

The A-League clubs first raised these issues with the FFA in 2015 prior to Steven Lowy’s ascension to the FFA chairmanship. 

The reason we needed a CRWG in the first place is because of a failure to reach agreement over three years, and despite two attempts during visits from FIFA and AFC officials. 

The purpose of the CRWG was to reach consensus. It is a gentle option imposed by FIFA compared with a Normalisation Committee as they have done elsewhere. The CRWG report, which was signed-off by FFA Board member Chris Nikou, is a consensus view of the current stakeholders. 

However, because others on the FFA Board do not agree to it, the FFA Chairman is now attempting to redraw the terms of reference to reach “sufficient” consensus. 

8.  More time needed

FFA Board:  

“FFA has championed efforts to expand the Congress and expand the A-League under a new operating model. The CRWG’s recommendations on these issues are not the only way forward – there are of course other options that will address stakeholder concern and satisfy FIFA’s requirements, including Article 15 of the FIFA Statutes. What is required now is a conciliatory approach to reach the right outcomes to continue to push this great game forward.”   

Comment

This Damascene conversion to an expanded Congress and greater stakeholder representation is a creature of the last few weeks. The FFA has been dragged kicking and screaming to its current position.

FFA didn’t advocate for greater stakeholder representation on the CRWG in the first place. 

FFA didn’t argue for a bigger, broader Congress in the talks with FIFA and the AFC last year. 

FFA had not previously mentioned the idea of a bigger Congress when these Congress wars began three years ago. 

And FFA did or said nothing to support greater democracy in the FIFA Congress and Council when #NewFIFANow advocated internationally for them well beforethe FIFA arrests. In fact, the Australian federation was one of a few handfuls of federations worldwide that didn’t respond to correspondence from #NewFIFANow co-founder, Damian Collins MP, on this point.

So it is impossible to take this statement for anything other than what it is. Politics, pure and simple. 

It is an attempt by the FFA Board to wedge some of the current stakeholders and potential SIGs against the CRWG’s recommendations. It is an attempt to maintain the position of those in charge for as long as possible for whatever the real reason is that they may have to do so. It is an attempt to continue to keep football in Australia in a state of inertia to which it has fallen over the past three years.

With the ACT and NT (representing 5% of registered players) falling firmly behind the FFA Board, and NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the A-League clubs in agreement with the CRWG recommendations, the question for the two 'swing' MFs of Northern NSW and Tasmania is this: is more delay, more of the same leadership, and more standing still, in the long-term best interests of football?


Categories: Opinion | Analysis | Football Business

ffa congress, ffa governance, football governance

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