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On 19 December 2018, the FFA Chairman Chris Nikou issued an open letter to the ‘football family’ following the new-ish FFA Board’s first full meeting on 11 December. Nikou and three other Directors (Joseph Carrozzi, Remo Nogarotto and Heather Reid) were elected to the Board on 18 November 2018 to join Kelly Rosmarin and Crispin Murray whose terms expire in November this year.

Nikou’s open letter advised that the Board would “commence work to build towards the next four-year plan for our game”, as part of which they had “an ambitious 100-day plan which seeks to define a true unity of purpose across the football family.” He set out 10 points on which progress should be measured after the first 100 days. 

Today being the 100th day of their reign, we take a look at how they’re going with implementation of the 10 priority areas set out in Nikou’s letter and give each area a rating to achieve an overall result.

The 10 points were not particularly ‘stretch goals’, and were mostly confined to commencing a process, rather than achieving an outome.

1.              Increased and improved communication with the football family, including through Community Football Summits and a Fans Forum 

Dates in nine cities (but no venues) were nominated by FFA last week for the community summits, starting this Sunday in Brisbane. 

What is not so far known is how these summits will be conducted – other than hearing from FFA staff about progress on key issues – the true extent of dialogue and engagement as opposed to presentations, and who will be involved from the FFA Board. The process by which members of the football family are able to participate is also not known with FFA requiring people to register, with the implication that not everyone who wants to attend will be able to do so.

At the time of writing, we understand from football community members in Brisbane who have registered for the summit, that they have not yet received any details about the time or venue.

The date for the A-League fans' forum, to be held in Melbourne, has not yet been set.

Our rating:  B

2.              Establishment of and advancement of work undertaken by the New Leagues Working Group (NLWG)

The report of the Congress Review Working Group (CRWG) made it clear that the NLWG should report by the end of March this year.

So far, progress has been slow with membership of the NLWG not named until the beginning of February. It includes FFA Board directors Carrozzi and Murray, all state member federation presidents, five A-League club representatives, two PFA representatives and two Women’s Council members. As one of the Women’s Council representatives is the Company Secretary of Melbourne Victory (and a member of the same law firm as Nikou), the A-League could be seen as having an additional representative. 

The person not named is the chair of working group which is Judith Griggs, who also chaired the CRWG. Griggs is understood to be somewhat mystified as to why there has been such little progress, which perhaps explains why she has been brought in as chairman to knock a few heads together. 

The A-League clubs have already completed much of the work and financial modelling from their perspective, so the challenge will be getting the rest of the working group – particularly the state member federations - to agree to whatever model they have which, hopefully, is going to ‘save’ the A-League and the other competitions. 

Our rating:  C+

3.              Establishment of the National Second Division Working Group

Board director Remo Nogarotto and AAFC Chairman Rabieh Krayem have both tweeted that there will be an announcement this week about the national second division working group. Once again, all the state member federations want to be involved in the working group with the first meeting to take place this week. 

It is now more than 16 months since AAFC first floated their discussion concept for a national second division. 

Our rating:  C

4.              Appointment of a new National Technical Director

This has not yet been announced. The committee to recommend the new national technical director comprises the Head of Women’s and Community Football Emma Highwood (to whom the position used to report), the PFA CEO John Didulica, Under-17 women’s head coach, Rae Dower and Melbourne City FC's assistant coach, Tony Vidmar. 

This is arguably the most important position in the entire football ‘ecosystem’ and has been vacant since the former incumbent, Eric Abrams, finished in the role in July 2018. 

Ante Jukic wrote last week about just how and why this role is so important and, as each day goes by, Australia’s technical football development is rudderless and, apparently, in the hands of Highwood who has not played the game at a high level. As Jukic wrote, football appears to be an “afterthought” in Australian football.

It is understood that some highly credentialed applicants were informed more than two months ago that their services would not be required, as this extract from an ‘unsuccessful’ letter from Highwood to applicants of 21 December shows. It is unclear what has happened since then. 

There is also a view from some experienced football experts (as opposed to those inside FFA) in Australia that we should consider a model similar to that of the Netherlands which now has more than one technical director, so there is an emphasis on technical direction for outfield players, goalkeepers and, importantly, coaches. 

Our rating:  F

5.              Finalisation of the review of the National Club Identity Policy (NCIP)

FFA finally agreed to review one of the most contentious policies ever implemented by them, striking at the heart of what is seen as the cultural divide between so-called ‘old soccer’ and ‘new football’ – the NCIP. 

Rumours abound via #sokkahtwitter that Nikou was a strong proponent of it on behalf of the previous Board, using burner accounts on social media and online forums to prosecute the policy.

The NCIP review came about in response to action in the Human Rights Commission by Charlestown City FC (supported by AAFC) in September last year. According to this report, the action by Charlestown City FC is still open if they are not satisfied with the response from the NCIP review. 

By their own timeline, FFA has two more days to complete the review which is another matter that sits within Highwood’s area of responsibility. The review process included an online survey of the ‘football family’ as well as seeking input from various parties. 

Our soundings suggest that only two organisations want to see the current policy rescinded: Football Victoria and AAFC. 

Our rating:  F

6.              Formal commencement of the bid for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup 

Who knew that it hadn’t formally commenced? Government funding for this bid was announced in June 2017 and a website was established in October 2018 with a call to action. Nonetheless, FFA announced again earlier this month that they would bid now that the timeline has been set by FIFA.

Our view is that Australia should not proceed with its bid on the basis that the vote – which is 13 months away – is to be taken in secret by the 36 members of the FIFA Council, and is not an open, public vote of all member federations of the FIFA Congress. 

This is the same scenario as the 2018/2022 vote, and Australia has absolutely no excuses this time: win or lose, they will be losers as they will have participated in a vote that is not transparent. 

Our rating:  B

7.              Enhancing our relationships across the Asian Football Confederation and beyond 

This might have been going okay until NPL player and refugee from Bahrain, Hakeem Al-Araibi, was detained by the Thai Government at the request of the Bahrain Government on arrival in Bangkok for his honeymoon on 27 November 2018. 

According to FFA and one of the Board directors, Joseph Carrozzi, FFA officials raised Al-Araibi’s detention directly with the President of the Asian Football Confederation, Shaikh Salman, in January. The official FFA statement on Al-Araibi’s release earlier this month included a ‘thank you’ to Bahrain, so it’s unclear how strong FFA’s representations were with Salman. Not even the Australian Government’s official statement thanked Bahrain. 

FFA Chairman, Chris Nikou, has been nominated to the AFC Executive to be decided at those same elections. (Until this election, Moya Dodd has been Australia’s representative on the AFC executive for the past nine years). His nomination was announced on 9 December 2018, one day before FFA issued their first statement on Al-Araibi's situation. 

Three years ago at the time of the FIFA Presidential election, campaign group #NewFIFANow – with Al-Araibi’s help – highlighted the inappropriateness of Salman for the role of FIFA President and, by extension, the role of AFC President. FIFA’s compliance chief subsequently ruled that Salman passed the FIFA integrity test for candidates. FIFA’s PR company busily briefed journalists and others that a Salman win would risk FIFA losing their victim status with the US and Swiss authorities and could plunge the world governing body of the sport into a type of ‘receivership’ with assets held by the Swiss government until a new body could be formed. Salman almost won and, in hindsight, that might have been a good thing if the US and Swiss had actually carried through with their threats. Not many in Australia were interested in Salman, Al-Araibi or indeed the FIFA Presidential election then.

Today it is encouraging to learn that Craig Foster and the professional footballers’ organisations, fuelled by the international exposure on Al-Araibi, are now keen to “take on” Salman at the AFC elections on 6 April as their next public campaign. 

If Foster, FIFPro and others do step-up to place pressure on Salman as president of AFC, the next few weeks could be uncomfortable for FFA and Nikou - and interesting for the rest of us.

Our rating:  D

8.              Hosting of the inaugural Women’s Cup of Nations across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne

The Cup of Nations kicks-off on Thursday so in this respect, the FFA achieves an ‘A’.

Football Today understands that the Cup of Nations was Alen Stajcic's idea. Initially, the FFA arranged for matches against South Korea only; Stajcic wanted more match practice than that in the lead-up to the World Cup to assess his players, so FFA acquiesced to a second opponent, with Stajcic pushing them for a third in a mini-tournament format similar to the USA's Tournament of Nations.   

Of course, when FFA issued their 10-point 100-day plan, there was no hint that they would, one month later on 19 January, sack the coach of the women’s national team for reasons that have not yet been satisfactorily clarified. 

What we do know is that a FFA Board director, Heather Reid, made extraordinary comments on the record to Andrew Webster of Fairfax, and that she sent a bevy of private messages and tweets outlining what she saw as the case against Stajcic to a wide range of people including some in the media and prominent football community members on social media, some of whom have identified themselves. Reid also sent this writer a ‘cease and desist’ letter once she realised we had copies of some of those messages and tweets in our possession.

Hours after writing to FFA Chairman Nikou about the cease and desist letter sent by the deputy Chairman of FFA, Reid stepped down from her Board duties to focus on her health. 

The most definitive statement we have from FFA on the Stajcic sacking – other than Reid’s statements and messages - is that the team required a “cultural reset” due to a “dysfunctional” and “toxic culture” which Stajcic himself allegedly described as “cancerous”. Stajcic has also been spoken of by some commentators as using the term “lesbian mafia” when referring to a group of powerful and influential women in the game, in the context of a Board member informing him in August last year that “they were after [him]”, as outlined in Webster's article in Fairfax.

It continues to be difficult to understand quite why the 'culture' of the Matildas was the fault of one man.

Social media accounts of some Matildas and W-League players that have been shown to Football Today suggest that some players have life lessons to learn when it comes to culture. It’s one thing for the players to have an active and eventful social life, to which they are entitled - in private. It’s quite another to post videos and images of themselves and their friends which range from being playful or raunchy, to indecorous. As one observer of a certain set of videos noted, elite level players in other countries “do not post this sort of stuff online. If they do it, they leave it private, not for any 10-year-old to see it.”

The sacking of Stajcic and the continuing fallout from it, notwithstanding the appointment of a good quality coach in Ante Milicic, is expected to have an impact on the Cup of Nations.

Our rating:  What started as a fairly straightforward ‘A’, becomes a ‘D’ because of related events, and potentially a ‘F’.

9.              Commencement of a review into the National Premier Leagues encompassing licensing criteria, youth development, training compensation and the cost of playing  

Terms of reference for the national NPL review were circulated and agreed in December, which included a timeline of end of July 2019 to complete the view and the establishment of a national working group. 

This has not yet been done and, in the meantime, many of the state federations are conducting their own review. 

Our rating:  D

10.           Nationally co-ordinated government relations activity throughout 2019 

This is a good idea, but there is a question of whether it's a matter for a big publicity splash in News Corp papers about it.

For a start, their definition of ‘government relations’ appears to be limited so far to a transactional relationship around funding for facilities which FFA has telegraphed publicly as requiring $300 million. Some states, notably Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, have already had recent successes in securing more funding for facilities from state governments and local councils.

That there is a shortage of facilities and an inadequacy of facilities is not disputed. 

However, publicly stating that FFA has set this as a priority, together with the amount of funding they are seeking, is unlikely to be viewed as particularly helpful at the federal level by either of the major parties that will form the government in May after the federal election. It also puts FFA action on notice to other sports, particularly those who are adept and practiced at seeking and obtaining rivers of gold from government. In addition, if FFA do not secure the $300 million they will, by their own measure, have failed because of the raised expectations.

Our rating:  B 

Overall result

On the basis of a simple points system to reflect the possible ratings from A+ to F, the overall result is C- (C minus).  In academic terms, it is equivalent to the lowest passing grade.

Is it good enough? Or is this as good as it gets?

Categories: Analysis | Football Business

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