Sepp Blatter anyone?

Remember the former FIFA President who on 2 June 2015 told the world, six days after the famous pre-dawn arrests in Zurich, that he would “lay down his mandate” as President, but not for another six months?

Steven Lowy isn’t hanging-on for quite that long, but it was a similar message and intent: he will continue to be “Chairman until the last day”, which could be up to 105 days away.

Depending on one’s point of view, the news of Lowy’s decision not to seek re-election at the Annual General Meeting of FFA in November this year is either a rather sad end of an era, or a reason for celebration. 

It is neither.

On the one hand, Lowy could be seen as doing the only thing he could do in the circumstances where, as most would see it, the new Congress would not re-elect him in any case. 

But it’s really not as simple as that.

What this is, is a tactic aimed at convincing the two undecided state federations that it is only the ‘Lowy Way’ which has the best interests of football at heart.

For those who are eager students of these ‘FFA Wars’, you will recall that we have an agreed Congress Reform Working Group (CRWG) report. Even though FFA Board member, Chris Nikou, was on that working group and signed-up to the report, the FFA Board and management issued a dissenting statement a few days after the report was released. Two days ago, the CRWG – this time, without Nikou – issued a statement rebutting the FFA’s views

The CRWG report goes to the Associations Committee of FIFA on Monday. It is widely expected that the report will be rubber-stamped, although the Lowy family and FFA have been lobbying FIFA furiously for this not to happen.

If this is the case, the recommendations will then be forwarded by FIFA to the existing FFA Congress to agree to them at an extraordinary general meeting on 7 September, ahead of nominations closing for the FFA Board vacancies on 30 September. However, there is one thing that could put a spanner in these works: whether the existing FFA Congress, of nine state member federations and one A-League club representative, pass the changes to the FFA Constitution by at least 75% of the vote. In other words, if three state federations vote against the changes, there will be no change. 

We know for certain that two state federations will not support the changes, the ACT and the Northern Territory which, together account for 3% of players in the country.

Two other state federations, Northern NSW and Tasmania, are undecided and have been the object of intense lobbying from both sides in the past week. Lowy is even reported to have phoned at least two of the state federation presidents on the CRWG and ‘read the riot act’ to them over their agreement to the CRWG’s report.

By “taking himself out of the equation” and pushing the point that he’s doing this because it’s best for football, Steven Lowy is effectively signaling to Northern NSW and Tasmania – and hoping to do so to the broader football community also - that what the FFA Board and management circulated as their objections to the CRWG report is for ‘football’ reasons and not personal reasons.

In stating his case, Lowy has also returned to a dog whistle he has used previously, and one not entirely dissimilar to those we see in federal politics – the threat of “foreign interests” in the game.

At least he’s changed his pitch slightly from the one in August last year when he even questioned the appropriateness of foreign individuals and owners in the A-League. He now believes it is okay to “welcome foreign investment” in the A-League but he also warns that they can’t be allowed to control the game here as they “would starve the grassroots.”

Does he mean in the same way FFA has ‘starved’ grassroots by obtaining approximately 7% of FFA's total revenue from their great big player tax? 

In case you were in any doubt about which foreign owner the Lowy gaze is focused on above the Indonesian (Brisbane Roar), Russian (Sydney FC), Chinese (Newcastle Jets), English (Central Coast Mariners) and Netherlands/Chinese (Adelaide United) interests, The Australian article once again singles out the “Abu Dhabi and Chinese-controlled City Football Group” (Melbourne City). 

Lowy says that “by removing myself from the debate I hope to encourage a proper analysis of the real issues so that an outcome can be achieved that is in the interests of the whole of the game.”

If either Northern NSW or Tasmania are persuaded by this, and join with the ACT and the NT, then the recommendations of the CRWG will not pass. 

Assuming the report is rubber-stamped, that will leave FIFA with the option of a ‘proper’ Normalisation Committee or the so-called ‘nuclear’ option of suspension, both options that Lowy and his advisors are confident can be challenged legally. If the Lowys' Zurich visits have paid off and the report is not rubber-stamped, then it's back to the drawing board for all concerned. 

And that is why Steven Lowy left the door open in his media conference earlier today, stating that if the CRWG’s recommendations are not agreed, then he could ‘see himself clear’ as still being Chairman. 

After all, if Lowy was serious about not letting ‘personalities’ get in the way and having the best interests of football at heart, why wouldn’t he walk away now, rather than fight the outcome of the CRWG report, and then wait for more than three months to see how this unfolds? 

Some sources suggest that the reason Lowy is so desperate to remain in charge until the end of November relates back to the tainted bid for the 2022 World Cup. ASIC regulations require corporations, including those limited by guarantee, to maintain all financial records for seven years after financial statements are lodged. The seven years is up for 2010-11, the final year of grant monies from the federal government, in November 2018. 

Surely that’s just a coincidence. Isn’t it?

This was updated subsequent to original publication to clarify a generic legal challenge, rather than a specific one; and also to add a sentence about the implications if the CRWG report is not agreed by the Associations Committee. 

Categories: Analysis | Football Business

ffa congress, ffa governance, steven lowy

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