“Football lost its way in Australia when the game stopped listening to the people who love, watch and play the game”. But that may be changing.

That was how Australian Association of Football Clubs chairman Rabieh Krayem closed proceedings at Monday night's historic football forum in Melbourne.

The winds of revolution are sweeping through Australian football with the election of a new board of directors and chairperson set for next week's Annual General Meeting, and the AAFC forum – attended by a crowd of around 100 in Melbourne and broadcast to the public via Football Nation Radio and the AAFC Facebook page – encapsulated the spirit of those changes by offering the average punter a rare glimpse at the nominees.

Seven of the 11 board nominees attended the forum, those being Joseph Carrozzi, Stephen Conroy, Craig Foster, Daniel Moulis, Chris Nikou, Remo Nogarotto and Mark Shield, while a further two, Heather Reid and Morry Bailes, made pre-prepared statements.

All nominees were invited to present a short statement to the audience before a Q & A session, presided over by FOX Sports' Simon Hill allowed attendees, listeners and Hill himself to poke and probe each candidate on their candidacy and the issues facing the game.

Craig Foster was the outstanding performer and certainly enjoyed the greatest response from those in attendance, while Remo Nogarotto also pleased. Stephen Conroy was perhaps the surprise performer of the night.

While the forum itself was a huge step forward in increasing access to, and the transparency of, the nomination process and the candidates it has delivered, dialogue sat mainly at an ideological level and those hoping for candidates to highlight specific policies or actions or outcomes they would seek as chairperson or director may have been disappointed.

So, what did candidates present have to say, how did they present and what questions remain?  We look at the notable performers.

(Please note: the below focuses purely on the candidate's presentation and answers on the night. For a more thorough breakdown of each candidate, see Football Today's scorecard.)

Joseph Carrozzi

What do they hope to bring to the board or as chairperson?

Three pillars; Diversity, Transparency and Unity.

Why are they running?

To facilitate broader consultation, specifically with the 13 standing committees established by the new FFA constitution and try to ignite the fanbase.

Quote/s of the night

“Any board will only be successful if the members are engaged, share a common set of values a commitment to open and authentic decision making and ability to listen much more than speak.”

“There is not a sporting code in this country with as many assets to capitalise as football … If we can develop a united, compelling narrative for community football, state federations and national representative competitions, we are giving [Australian businesses] a menu to buy from that no other sport can provide.” – On how to 'grow the financial pie' for Australian football.

My Verdict

Carrozzi perhaps started behind the eight-ball give his well-publicised links with AFL's Greater Western Sydney Giants and the fact that his interest in football has come from seemingly nowhere. Carrozzi spoke of his links to Marconi and Sydney FC as a supporter but failed to convince with respect to his supposedly deep-held passion for the game. Despite this, he presented professionally and was the only candidate to reference the constitutional changes as a result of the CWRG and how the creation of new standing committees would affect the role of the Board and its members. He confirmed he would step down from not just the GWS Board but all but one of the other boards he currently sits on (a medical research institute) if successful. One to watch. 6.5/10

Stephen Conroy

What do they hope to bring to the board?

Financial transparency, guaranteed grassroots funding from an independent A-League and an ability to “herd the sheep”.

Why are they running?

To bring an independent and consultative voice to the board in recognition of the volunteers he sees week in, week out at his daughter's local club, Williamstown FC.

Quote/s of the night:

“The board that will be elected next week must deliver financial transparency because it is only through that transparency that accountability will be restored to the stakeholders.”

“An independent A-League provides a catalyst and opportunity for our federations and stakeholders because those negotiations must deliver a guaranteed minimum level of funding for grassroots football.”

My Verdict

Perhaps the surprise of the night. While short on the footballing experience and passion demonstrated by others, his analogies of “herding the cats” in Senate – where his government never enjoyed a majority – to ensure the passage of legislation struck a chord with the audience. It remains to be seen if managing the Greens and Pauline Hanson's One Nation was a more arduous task than bringing together the fractured football fraternity. His vision not just for an independent A-League but the outcomes it should deliver for all of football was impressive.  8/10

Craig Foster

What do they hope to bring to the board?

Football. (Incredible, eh!?) 

Why are they running?

To build business around football and realise a shared vision which puts pride and passion at the centre of football governance.

Quote/s of the night

“We're not football at the moment, we're only business … We have to break the cycle and build business around football, not the other way around.”

“NCIP has no place in football and no place in Australian society. Our game is the most diverse in the country and that's our greatest asset.”

“We have proposed independence of the professional game and if people around the board aren’t prepared to advocate for and protect the grassroots and national teams and other areas, we can put ourselves in a position of peril … I support independence … but the problem is that if this occurs without the NPL and The Championship (national 2nd div) at a time when the FFA Cup demonstrates that the NPL is still competitive as part of the discussion, we're in trouble.”

My Verdict

No candidate could match the passion and vision for the game of the outstanding performer of the night, Craig Foster. His inimitable love for the game shone through every impassioned statement he made and no candidate received as many rounds of applause or head nods from the crowd which hung off his every word. If the chairperson was voted on by applause and retweets and likes on social media, Foster would have enjoyed a landslide victory. Foster confirmed he would step down from his contract roles with Southern Expansion and Football NSW. 9/10

Remo Nogarotto

What do they hope to bring to the board?

A sense of football passion to the boardroom, but not at the expense of good judgement or assessment of issues on merit.

Why are they running?

To help the game build its own cultural and governance architecture.

Quote/s of the night: 

“There is no old soccer and new football in the big markets of the world. There is one football and everyone unites around the game.”

“We need to get a good dose of evangelism combined with a good dose of business acumen back in the boardroom.”

“I am supremely confident of the people and the intellectual property that resides in our game. We have good people, smart people with the intellectual property to make a difference.” 

My Verdict

Like Foster, Remo Nogarotto's deeply-held passion and knowledge of the game shone through. He spoke passionately and without any notes about his vision for a united game that looks to bridge the gap and erode the divide that has been caused by the “new football/old soccer” divide. Nogarotto highlighted the importance of expansion on a number of occasions, perhaps more than any other present, suggesting any FFA Board he sits on will prioritise the expansion of the A-League. Nogarotto announced he would be withdrawing from the race for FFA Chairman for fear of the conversation being hijacked by his ties to “old soccer”. 8/10

Heather Reid (via pre-prepared statement, read out by Maria Berry)

What do they hope to bring to the board?

Inclusiveness as well as a unique understanding of the operation of the sport at grassroots, state and federal levels.

Why are they running?

To help build the game's inclusivity and unleash the power of the world game.

Quote/s of the night 

“Playing football wasn't an option for girls when I was a teenager … I seized the chance in the late 1970s to help form a team, then a club, then an association to provide opportunities for women to participate in the world game.”

“I am one of the few nominee directors who has a personal understanding of how our sport operates from grassroots to state to national levels and the challenges faced by member federations.”

My Verdict

Reid's pre-prepared statement spoke for her experience, her achievements and her vision. Reid's statement told a touching story of a girl starved of opportunities to play the game who would go on to create her own pathways and one for all women to follow. The lack of female voices in this process has been hugely disappointing and points to deeper problems facing female players, coaches, volunteers and administrators and how they are viewed and treated. 8/10

The Rest

Credit should be given to current Board members Daniel Moulis and Chris Nikou for fronting up and fielding some deservedly tough questions about the performance of the current Board.

Moulis made some good points about the need for football to be better at imposing its sheer people power on government at the council, state and federal levels through more structured advocacy, which was reiterated by other nominees.

Both provided professional presentations but will face an uphill battle to convince they deserve to remain on the Board.

Mark Shield was the other nominee present who presented passionately and provided some unique viewpoints from his refereeing career, but while his passion for the game was obvious, he lacked a consistent and coherent vision for the game and the roadmap to get there which others did.

Having said that, there is much to be said for the experience and perspectives those from perhaps more niche stakeholder groups, such as referees, can provide and we should hope to see more people like Shield receive nominations in the future.

Morry Bailes provided a pre-recorded statement which was played to the audience, which was professional if not memorable.

Linda Norquay and Mark Rendell made no presentations.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you think of the content of the discussions and whether or not nominees provided enough specifics around their candidacies, the outcomes they hope to deliver and how the roadmap to achieving those goals, there is no denying that simply having seven nominees in one room presenting to the game's stakeholders was a miraculous step forward.

These opportunities should be more frequent and embedded in the election process itself instead of relying on the goodwill of volunteer organisations like the AAFC to organise them.

The Congress must now mull over the nominees and elect the board and chairperson, and while there is fair concern that the nominations seriously lack diversity, there are still tough choices to make.

The charisma and football-first mantra of Craig Foster is hard to deny and while questions must surely remain about whether or not his involvement in the Southern Expansion bid – which would trample on the territory of three existing NPL clubs – is at odds with his message of unity in the football community, no candidate left as large an impression on the audience.

Stephen Conroy, Heather Reid, Remo Nogarotto also present compelling options, and Joseph Carrozzi presented in a measured and professional manner, and is very much in the race.

In my humble opinion, this is about squeezing five – Foster, Conroy, Reid, Nogarotto and Carrozzi – into four available positions.

Of those five, only Foster and Carrozzi have nominated for the chair and between those two, the decision is easy. Foster is the only candidate the football family would trust to put football at the heart of every decision the board makes.

But that does need to be tempered by some sense of independence and perhaps broader considerations. Between the remaining candidates – Carrozzi, Conroy, Reid and Nogarotto – the sensible option for this function of the Board would come from the former two. 

Carrozzi's involvement with the GWS makes his nomination a complicated one and a little harder to stomach, though he did perform admirably at the forum. 

Still, it was Conroy's presentation and the clear issues and outcomes he presented on – namely negotiating the independence of the A-League to ensure grassroots football is not left to fend for itself – that was the more compelling, particularly when complemented by his parliamentary experience.

The remaining two positions then fall to Reid and Nogarotto to give a Board packed with, as Nogarotto himself put it, “a good dose of evangelism combined with a good dose of business acumen”, to give us a board that looks like:

  • Craig Foster
  • Stephen Conroy
  • Heather Reid
  • Remo Nogarotto
  • Crispin Murray (incumbent)
  • Kelly Bayer Rosmarin (incumbent)
  • Foster remains the outstanding candidate for chair.

The Board is also able to nominate up to three additional Directors, and Carrozzi should be a 'first cab off the rank' for one of those positions.

So, what's next? Making sure we let those voting know who we want to see elected by end of the day next Sunday, 18 November. 

Thankfully, Football Today has made that part easy and you can email all voting members by reading our article HERE.

Categories: Opinion | Football Business

ffa board, #ffavotes, ffa governance, aafc

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