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In writing this opinion piece, I acknowledge having a vested interest as the Interim Chair for Football Supporters Australia (FSA).

It is acknowledged as being consistent with the views and policy position of the FSA in the organisation’s public statement on 10 August in response to the release last week of the report with recommendations by the Congress Review Working Group (CRWG) to FIFA. 

In the week leading up to release of the report, FSA had been openly critical of FFA leadership based upon numerous highly credible media reports of attempts to stifle or block the compromise solutions integrated in the recommendations agreed to by stakeholder members. 

In the final report made public with FIFA approval, FSA was recognised as contributing to the work of the CRWG between 4 June and 31 July, as well as its submission dated 23 July 2018.

The Congress Review Working Group (CRWG) process was well facilitated by the independent Chair, Ms Judith Griggs, a very challenging task over only seven weeks after protracted stand-off between FFA and key stakeholders over the prior two years.

“Reform lite” was a description by Bonita Mersiades, a leading campaigner for governance reform in football worldwide, for Football Today about recommendations in the 103 pages report.

Via Twitter, the view of former Chairman of Soccer Australia (until 2003), Remo Nogarotto, was that “like all processes born from a desire to find consensus the proposed governance reforms represent an improvement on the current position but fall well short of boldness. Fans, the game’s biggest stakeholder, will feel justifiably aggrieved”.

There is very little recognition of fans in the report even though they are the single biggest stakeholder in football within Australia. Although the CRWG Chair included the terms fans and supporters several times in her introduction, their importance was barely mentioned later in the main body of the report and Annexures.

Report's shortcomings

For example, there is absolutely no acknowledgement of fans or engagement with them in the sections for Governance Landscape of Football in Australia, Member Federations (nine in total), Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA) Overview and PFA.

When examining the proposed Standing Committees there is still no mention of fans even under Other Committees nor, as expected, within the recommended New Congress Model (A broader and more balanced representation of stakeholders in line with the FIFA Statutes).

Others stakeholders, as well as some in the media, have advised or assumed that the opportunity for fans' representation will come through eligibility for consideration as one of the Special Interest Groups (SIGs).

Under the current proposal, it seems doubtful that fans will be engaged as a key stakeholder by the ‘New Leagues Working Group’ in development of the Pathway to an alternative A-League Governance Model which should include critical issues such as policing of football. 

Within the CRWG matrix showing the full participation of women across all aspects of football governance, fans are not included. However, in a subsequent Annexure, the FFA Women’s Committee Terms of Reference mentions fans and supporters in W-League and national teams’ development.

The most far reaching implications for potential involvement of fans in new governance arrangements features in Annexure 8 with the Congress membership pathway framework and criteria for special interest groups (SIGs) known as “FFA new member pathway”.

There are three phases starting from qualifying member progressing to associate/provisional member and then full member after four years. With these requirements, rights and obligations needing to be first met yet, the timelines seem to be too lengthy and so may discourage many SIGs. In Annexure 12 for the Congress Membership Model there appear to be few positions available for SIGs, and fans are once again not shown as examples under this category.

In looking at stakeholders across the spectrum in governance of football, a reality is that the vast majority of fans pay for the ‘privilege’ of involvement in football. By contrast, most other representatives and officials assured of a place on the proposed new Congress will from well-paid positions for such a privilege.

If the FFA governance model based upon the CRWG recommendations are adopted and implemented, then a regular four-year cycle of governance review will be applied.

Fan engagement is needed now

With such an extended timeline for pathway to CRWG membership, a big intermediate step that could be taken by FFA to engage properly with fans would be to adopt the proposal of FSA in last February for establishment of an Advisory Council for fans’ groups. This needs to happen before the end of the 2018 calendar year. 

Despite major weaknesses, FSA has accepted the report as an important stepping stone towards eventual major governance reforms which will lead to more strategically effective, transparent and accountable administration of our game for the greater good of all stakeholders right down to grassroots levels.

The FSA position is similar to the call by Rabieh Krayem, Chairman of the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) for special interest groups to embrace the pathways to Congress model and continue to make a positive contribution by being part of the game”.

Engagement by fans in governance is also needed

Fans’ groups, including the FSA, now know that if they are to gain representation on the highest level of broader stakeholders’ representation via the Congress then timelines, criteria and eligibility will need to be followed and achieved. 

FSA highlights that “this challenge and opportunity are for fans’ organisations to get their own governance in order to achieve success through an application process for membership of the Congress. It is important for fans through their networks, groups and associations to come together around issues, challenges and opportunities of common interest. Within this context, FSA will continue to advocate for fans and help to facilitate constructive and proactive contributions alongside all other stakeholder groups, FIFA and FFA.”

The theme of fans ‘walking the talk’ by developing and applying higher standards of governance for their own representative and membership-based organisations is critical.

We rightly challenge football administrators at the State, national, confederation and global levels in terms of transparency, accountability, good leadership, more effective strategies, broader and inclusive engagement, yet good governance begins with own backyard at the grassroots level of football fans culture.

If we can progress the latter, then it will collectively give fans a much stronger case for increased representation in decision making and governance at all levels of our game.

Football Supporters Australia is an advocacy-based national independent incorporated association, registered in Victoria. It has an interim board ahead of the inaugural AGM before the end of 2018, including election of office bearers, adoption of a formal constitution and establishment of a membership structure. The association’s board comprises volunteers from a range of professional backgrounds including medicine, IT, business and research, and all are non-aligned with other major stakeholders and special interest groups. For further information and to get involved, visit Football Supporters Australia website

Categories: Opinion | Football Business | Football Life

ffa congress, governance, #footballsupportersaustralia, fan engagement

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