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Since early December, we've been on another roller coaster ride of emotions associated with football in Australia. I want to acknowledge that some of this has tested my own life-long commitment to the game with even passing thoughts of walking away from proactive involvement through advocacy, developing solutions and writing.

There have been at least two major and unprecedented crises with wider and far reaching implications. 

The illegal incarceration in a Bangkok jail of Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, a permanent resident of Australia, galvanised an incredible grassroots campaign led by Craig Foster. 

The safe return of Hakeem was a tribute to the persistence of 'Fozz' alongside the contributions and tireless efforts of so many from diverse backgrounds and areas of responsibility.

An almost three-month campaign involved numerous human rights organisations, players unions, clubs (especially Pascoe Vale FC), journalists, media outlets, officials, fans' groups like Football Supporters Australia, diplomatic staff, football administrators and many individuals across Australia, from around the world and even in Thailand. It was truly a team effort based upon common values and shared beliefs to help bring out the best of our game. 

This successful outcome can provide fresh impetus for global action to hold governments and football administrative bodies at the international, continental and national level accountable to human rights abuses involving sports participants including football players. 

In late January, the shock 'sacking' of Matilda' coach Alen Stajcic was followed by a dirty aftermath of scandal, public aromony and accusations, finger pointing and continued defiance from FFA leadership.

Resistance of the latter  has been in the face of growing and sustained pressure for an independent investigation to be held and full findings made public.

We still don't know the truth behind the Stajcic decision, and that raises serious questions about the competence, credibility and motives of many different parties involved in a complex process with origins that go back many years.

There has been a serious emotional impact on the families of both Hakeem and Alen. The former's wife in particular didn't know if she would see her husband again if was illegally returned to Bahrain. The latter's wife and kids continue to endure uncertainty around his position, reputation and fight for justice. 

If there have been “culture” problems within the Matildas' set up needing to be fixed, then this should extend to the leadership and management of FFA right across the organisation. That probably also requires an 'at arms length' comprehensive review with follow up actions to implement major changes to structures, personnel and operations.

Enough is enough, the culture of entitlement, inflated senior salary packages and questionable performance in some key portfolios has to shift to exemplar governance standards.

Of course it would help if the Board of FFA was also revitalised with some fresh faces, so that the Lowys' era direct influence can be put to rest once and for all. This essential new phase of governance reforms must eventually be followed with a focus on the way the State-Territory federations do business, including greater transparency and accountability to grassroots stakeholders. 

On a personal level I have developed and maintained some good relationships with individuals at FFA over the past decade and such collaboration has largely overcome organisational contradictions and weaknesses. These are particularly in the area of away support for our Socceroos.

However, for some other critical issues it's been a frustrating journey in making any real headway of change.

FFA leadership has by and large procrastinated or sidestepped the ongoing and unresolved problems associated with the policing of football. The list involves the bans on fans appeals process, heavy handed and confrontational role of police across many jurisdictions, inconsistent and often over zealous application of local regulations by stadia security personnel, and sanitisation by some authorities and officials of the creative active support bases that are unique for football culture and generation of crowd atmospheres.

Once again the values of fairness, freedom of expression, natural justice and rights, and respect for the football community are being tested. For policing of football, inclusive engagement across relevant stakeholders must be facilitated by FFA to address these challenges using evidence based policy approaches that draw on proven frameworks being applied in the UK and Europe.

The reform of our national leagues continues through two working groups under the adopted recommendations of the Congress Review Working Group report.

While early signs are promising for a plan to set up a second division, the A-League reform process looks even more difficult to progress. Competing self-interests must be put aside to allow shared values for the greater good to prevail so that outcomes are beneficial for football as a whole and not at the expense of some. 

There is a common denominator for reforms to policing of football and designing a new blueprint for the national leagues. For both, we have a vital need for vision through sound strategic pathways and milestones that are bold and achievable via commitment, collaboration and inclusion. 

Within this context, let's remind ourselves that fans are a big part of the equation. I hope to contribute towards creating our common future for the well-being, success, enjoyment and sustainability of our football community and all of its participants. 

Categories: Opinion | Football Life

football family, fan development, policing of football, craig foster, hakeem al-araibi, alen stajcic, ffa board

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