The demand for greater A-League independence, financial transparency of the FFA’s accounts and an increased say for clubs in the sport’s management are key factors driving the current schism between the clubs and the Steven Lowy-led FFA board.
But this dispute, which is set to come to a head later this week and could see FIFA take over the running of n soccer, is not something that has occurred over the past few months.
It’s said that those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
With that in mind, it’s worth considering, given the impending implosion of the game, whether the FFA leaders have absorbed past lessons or whether they are largely the authors of the situation they find themselves in now.
Six years ago a detailed government report into the workings of the FFA and the operation of the A-League told the then Frank Lowy-led body that things had to change if the game was to reach its full potential.
The report was undertaken by the n Sports Commission, then chaired by former Tasmanian Liberal MP and Howard government cabinet minister Warwick Smith, who is currently a senior executive at ANZ Bank.
As long ago as 2011 the ASC was pinpointing the problems the game was facing because of the FFA leadership’s unwillingness to delegate responsibility and allow its key stakeholders more input into the sport.
It pointed out that the key recommendations of the groundbreaking Crawford Report of 2003 – which ushered in the new era which led to the establishment of the FFA and the coronation of Lowy senior as the game’s ultimate ruler – had not been fully implemented.
And, a decade-and-a-half after Crawford, critics of the FFA management argue that many of those provisions have still to be enacted and that the governance of the game is unsatisfactory – hence the current revolt.
The report, even at that time, said hard decisions over the future management of the game needed to be taken and that continued reliance on government largesse was unsustainable: the FFA and A-League clubs needed to get their financial house in order to ensure growth.
Back then, A-League clubs were losing collectively some $25 million a year putting on the show. Only Melbourne Victory has, in the intervening years, been a consistent moneymaker but even it showed a loss in its last accounts.
But, the ASC pointed out, the owners were not being given the opportunity to increase their revenue streams through greater power and control of the competition.
It is a message that resonates still.
“These owners perceive a limited ability to contribute to the strategic direction of the competition nor ability to address structural issues that contribute to their losses,” the report said.
“There is a perceived lack of transparency and decision making and financials around the A-League and concerns about participation agreements which are geared in FFA’s favour and limit clubs’ ability to generate further revenue.”
These are all key issues which are still grievances of the clubs and have fuelled the enmity which has put the game on a civil war footing which could end with FIFA taking control of the sport here.
Should that happen later this week the existing board and its chairman Steven Lowy, son of inaugural chairman Frank, would likely be sacked and a temporary administration installed.
At the heart of the current dispute is the make-up of the Congress – which elects the FFA board – and the lack of broad-based representation of the wider football family in the decision-making process.
The ASC reports made that a critical point all those years ago, warning the FFA that it should give consideration to increasing A-League club voting rights in relation to the FFA board (one of the key demands of the Lowy opponents today) or establish a subsidiary A-League entity to the FFA, with its own board.
In other words, a wholly or partly independent A-League, which, if the current impasse is not resolved, is the most likely outcome if the clubs decide that there is no option but to break away and go it alone.
The lack of transparency and openness over funding has been a major factor in the clubs’ disgruntlement. They argue that as the main drivers of revenue for the game they should be earning a greater share of TV rights rather than see the cash they generate being used to underpin the Socceroos, myriad national teams and generous staff and executive salary packages at head office.
Then-FFA CEO Ben Buckley (left) and chairman Frank Lowy in 2006. Photo: Peter Rae
Even back in 2011 the ASC report identified bloated FFA salaries as a cause for concern, recommending that the organisation cut head office costs through a recruitment and salary freeze and reduced travel costs.
The ASC findings were from a different time: Frank Lowy was the chairman who ruled with an iron fist, Ben Buckley was the CEO and several current board and executive members were not with the organisation.
But those looking at the current situation would probably say the more things change, the more it stays the same.