The FFA Congress Review Working Group Unpacked
FIFA's terms of reference for the Congress Review Working Group appear to have brought happy days to the stakeholders05 April 2018 | Bonita Mersiades
You can tell that the person within FIFA who drafted the Terms of Reference for the FFA Congress Review Working Group is a former diplomat because, on the face of it, he appears to have made almost everybody happy.
Indeed, FFA welcomed the long-awaited advice with a neat little re-write of history stating that they “support expansion of the Congress to reflect the evolution of football in Australia and balance the interests of each part of the game.”
If that is the case, the questions have to be asked of FFA what took them so long, and why did we have to get to this point of FIFA/AFC intervention?
What will the Working Group do?
It is the mandate of the Working Group set by FIFA that will no doubt make the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA) happy, because it reflects the issues put by APFCA to the FIFA/AFC delegation in February, that is:
- Alignment with art. 15 of the FIFA Statutes
- “Full participation of women” at all levels of football governance
- FFA Board composition and independence
- Pathway for an alternative A-League model
- Pathway for other stakeholders to become FFA members, including possible associate membership
- Representation of NPL clubs in football governance structures.
The Working Group is required to submit its proposal to FIFA/AFC by the end of July with adoption at a Special General Meeting of FFA by no later than 7 September 2018.
Who's on the Working Group?
The Working Group will comprise:
- An as yet unnamed independent chair;
- One member of the FFA Board;
- Four representatives of the nine state federations;
- Two representatives of the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA); and
- One representative of the PFA.
In other words, to put it in the mathematical formula parlance with which we've become familiar in considering FFA Congress issues: 1+1+4+2+1.
Who’s not on it?
Not unexpectedly, FIFA has not included the ‘newcomers’ in the Congress Review Working Group, but does direct the Working Group to “seek input” from the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) and for AAFC to be “systematically included” when discussing representation of NPL clubs in football governance structures.
AAFC has a policy decision to make.
Are they content for NPL clubs to gain de facto representation within state federation governance structures – which is not the case in every state federation currently – and which FIFA's mandate for the Working Group points to as being a measure they would support? Or will they continue to argue the case for a seat at the ‘big table’ either via full membership, or a possibly new category of associate membership? Or will they do both?
On the basis of the composition of the Working Group and their stated position on what the majority of its members see as the 'disruptive presence' of AAFC, as well as the mandate set out by FIFA, it will be an uphill struggle for AAFC to obtain full membership of the new look FFA Congress.
FIFA also directs that "experts, such as ‘Women Onside’, and female football officials and players", should provide input on the participation of women at all levels of football governance.
This is the same FIFA that believes they’ve ‘done’ gender equity within FIFA governance because they have mandated that there must be a designated woman’s position from each regional confederation on the FIFA Council. While ‘designated positions’ are better than nothing, they are also a very 1970s model of gender inclusion, and one that only serves to entrench the positions of those who have already broken through the grass ceiling, not assist and support women coming through the ranks.
It is also the same FIFA, by the way, who would not listen to, disparaged, demeaned and trod all over the rights of the only two individuals in the entire world who worked in football and who were willing to call out corruption in football – and who just happened to be women (disclaimer: one of them is the writer of this article).
Further, if we assume, as FIFA and some others apparently do, that women can best advise on women’s football, the corollary must be that men can best advise on anything to do with men’s football. By all means, let's get more women into more positions of governance and management, but women advising on women's issues and men advising on men's issues is not the point, or the outcome required, of gender inclusion.
- Coaches, Referees, Supporters
There is no mention of the coaches, referees’ or supporters’ associations – which we expect is precisely how those currently in power would want it.
The last-minute inclusion of these groups in the discussions with FIFA in February was never anything more than ticking some boxes for the sake of it, with state federations, A-League clubs and the PFA all having their reasons for not wanting to include any of these groups at this time.
However, they should all be arguing the case strongly for associate membership on a new-look Congress.
What about the independent chairperson?
Despite the fact that the trio from FIFA and AFC left our shores almost six weeks ago, and it’s taken this long to get the terms of reference, the i’s are not fully dotted nor the t’s crossed - as the independent chairperson is not yet named. Instead, the Working Group is to 'unanimously' agree (uh-oh) who the chairperson should be; and, if not, FIFA will do so instead.
Sources suggest that the delay in naming someone is because FIFA is discovering just how relatively small Australia is when it comes to the power elite. They are still looking for someone of suitable experience and gravitas who is actually independent of Westfield and/or the Lowy family.
Who will represent the Board?
Finding a Board member without ties to Westfield or the Lowy family may also be challenging.
Sources suggest it will be Chris Nikou, the Melbourne lawyer who was also previously on the Board of Football Federation Victoria and is also a Board member of the BBL Melbourne Renegades, as he doesn’t appear to have a particular link with Westfield or the Lowy's.
Yet his law firm does. K&L Gates have undertaken work for Westfield, Westfield Retail Trust and SCentre.
What about the four state federations?
Just which of the four state federations will be selected to represent the nine will tilt the outcome of the Working Group one way or the other.
For a start, it will not include Queensland. The current President of Football Queensland is not standing for re-election which takes place at the end of this month. In fact: if there are any good people in Queensland wanting to run for the Board, they should nominate now! We understand nominations close this week.
The word is that it is unlikely to be the ACT in light of their exposure from last year’s FIFA/AFC visit. The NT is also unlikely to be included because of distance and relative size.
The WA President is said to have more positions on issues than the kama sutra on steroids, so the factions within the state federations may be somewhat wary of his inclusion.
When not nodding off, the Northern NSW President is known to be strongly aligned with FFA.
That leaves ex-Adelaide United CEO, and now Chairman of FFSA, Sam Ciccarello as both a power broker and peace-maker amongst the state federation presidents; possibly Tasmania to ensure small state representation; as well as the two biggest states, Victoria and NSW.
If that is the case, then the Congress Review Working Group will ultimately end-up recommending an FFA Congress more or less along the lines of what the A-League clubs and the PFA wanted in the first place - albeit with a few tweaks, improvments and some expansion of the original model.
And that gets us back to the questions for FFA: what has this all been about, what has taken so long, and why did we have to get to this point of FIFA/AFC intervention?
Is there a sting in the tale?
Is the Pope a Catholic?! We’re talking about FIFA.
There are two.
First, the secretariat function is to be provided by a named FFA staff member, Tim Holden, who is now one of the two heads of Legal Affairs within FFA. Sources suggest FFA wanted its very longstanding Company Secretary (and former head of legal), Jo Setright, to provide the secretariat support but APFCA’s submission made it clear that wasn’t going to happen.
As for an independent secretariat formed by a staff member? It's the FIFA way: after all, they run the secretariat of the in-name-only independent Ethics Committee out of FIFA HQ by staff members of the FIFA legal department, a source of much frustration to at least one former FIFA Ethics Committee chairman.
Second, take a look at the penultimate paragraph of FIFA’s terms of reference. It’s classic FIFA.
As a point of reference, head to page 92 of my recently published book Whatever It Takes – the Inside Story of the FIFA Way also. I relate a conversation between former FFA CEO Ben Buckley and myself about a ‘get out’ clause in FIFA’s bidding documents. I make the point, when discussing the possibility of moving the 2022 World Cup from June/July, that FIFA “can change any of the details any time they like … and we’ve all got to accept it.”
They have applied a similar form of words in this case, viz:
“FIFA, in consultation with the AFC, shall have the power to encourage or to take any appropriate and justifiable decisions to ensure that the CRWG fulfills its mandate. In particular, the FIFA administration, in consultation with AFC, can amend the terms of reference of the CRWG at any time if deemed necessary.”
So hats off to the FIFA team who put together the terms of reference.
They’ve made FFA happy because they have at least one Board member on it. APFCA has set the agenda with PFA following along. The state federations simply can’t complain about having almost half of their number on the Working Group. None of them can complain about an independent chairperson - if they can find one.
And if FIFA/AFC doesn’t like any part of what happens - including if, for example, the nine state federations can't agree on their four representatives - then they’ll just do whatever they bloody well please. (2022 World Cup in November/December anyone?)
And that leads us back to the questions of those who are the custodians of the sport in Australia, the Board of FFA: what has taken so long, what was this all about, and why did we have to get to this point of intervention?
You know the answer.
ffa congress, ffa governance, fifa governance