It’s no secret that, right now, football in Australia is facing several challenges. With FIFA having to intervene (more than once) in its state of affairs and how the sport is handled, it was painfully obvious that things needed to change.
The Congress Review Working Group that was formed at the request of the World Organisation created a series of proposals, which were then submitted to FIFA to receive their seal of approval.
Most important among these proposals was the suggestion for a wider, more inclusive board of directors that would allow more voices to be heard within the governing body of Australian football.
The nine members of the A-League, the nine state federations, the professional footballers association and the women’s council are now all involved in the way things are run in the sport.
So far, so good. All these changes, as mentioned above, were necessary in order for things to start moving forward and so that one day, the A-League might step outside the shadow of the AFL and become its own individual entity.
However, the chairman of the FFA, Stephen Lowy, had made his feelings known in regards to these changes and, since they came to pass, announced his decision to resign.
Following these announcements, a number of candidates for Lowy’s position and the remaining extended board places revealed themselves, and this is where things began to get complicated.
Hidden politics, true intentions and an unchanging stance by some of the parties involved in the voting for this new board of directors revealed that there may still be some who are quite comfortable with the way things stand right now in Australian football.
Among the candidates to submit an application for the chairman’s position (initially) were former Melbourne Victory board member Chris Nikou and SBS analyst and former Socceroo Craig Foster.
During a press conference held by the Australian Association of Football Clubs that was live-streamed on social media, Foster appeared to be the most popular among the candidates, receiving widespread applause for his statement that the National Club Identity Policy had no place in Australian football and that its diversity was its greatest strength.
However, as popular as it was with the crowds, this particular stance of his may have cost him quite a few supporters in the actual voting booth. So many, in fact, that he opted to drop out of the campaign before the vote even began.
In a press release regarding the matter, Foster himself pointed out that he felt he didn’t have adequate support from the stakeholders to run for a position on the board, so dropping out was the only available choice left to him.
On the other side, Chris Nikou has been a member of the Stephen Lowy-led board for the past four years and has been engaged with football in general for many years, so he understands how things are run and has created solid connections with several A-League directors, making him a more ‘viable’ option for the chairman’s position.
But with a choice such as this made from the get-go, it brings to question the willingness of this new board to actually move forward with drastic new changes that will eventually be in the benefit of the sport, rather than remaining imprisoned within the confines of the many rules that keep football limited to the few.
The Nikou choice, but most importantly the complete lack of support towards Craig Foster’s ideals, represent the unchanging stance of the Federation towards Australian football’s history and the ethnic teams that it is tied to, in favour of the more commercial and all-inclusive clubs.
A good example for this could potentially be made of the South Melbourne candidacy for the A-League expansion, an issue that newly elected chairman Chris Nikou made his number one priority during his inaugural speech from his new position.
Even though the NPL side have a great history in Australian football, providing the Socceroos with dozens of players over the years, their application for the A-League could easily be deterred with the thought process that they could take crowds away from both Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.
It would also be easy to make the claim that allowing South Melbourne (a.k.a. “Hellas”) a position in the league only opens the door for even more clubs of ethnic background to enter and along with them invite dangerous elements that could make stadiums feel hostile for some people.
Yet, somehow, both these claims wouldn’t seem plausible under a Foster-led Federation. Out of all members, he seemed to be the one to comprehend that the one way to bring people back to the game would be to respect its roots, which is obviously not a popular opinion among the ones in charge of football in the country.
Right now, as things stand with Chris Nikou at the helm, it is possible that we will see quite a few changes occurring to Australian football, most notable among them, the A-League expansion and the necessary introduction of a second division. What will happen with the salary cap, one of Australian football’s major drawbacks, is still anybody’s guess.
However, what these decisions imply is that the way football is managed will most certainly continue to be from a business-first perspective, rather than that of a sport. Whether that will be enough to bring in the crowds remains to be seen.