Death By Numbers

Once again football in Australia has proven that it is it’s own worst enemy. The recent decision to not renew the Wellington Phoenix licence for their requested ten years is one that beggars belief. It’s not just the decision itself but also the timing of it which really defies logic.

Three weeks into the league start and to drop a bombshell like this on a team who have been one of the better performers in the early stages just adds fuel to the discontent. To say the lead in to this season was far from smooth would be a gross understatement and positive interest in the league as well as TV ratings are showing the effects. We need more actions from our governing body to stabilize the game instead of creating more rifts.

Below is an extract from the FFA official press release:

“FFA has carefully evaluated the role and contribution of the Wellington franchise in terms of game development, player pathway, commercial factors, broadcast rights and the long-term strategic outlook,” said Gallop.

“The application for a 10-year extension to the licence does not meet the requirements we see as fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League.”

You’d expect more support for a team that has stabilized itself and has a plan in place especially given the past collapses of New Zealand Knights, Gold Coast United, North Queensland Fury and Melbourne Heart; plus the life support that has been offered to Perth Glory, Central Coast Mariners, Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar, Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets over the course of their short histories. Wellington themselves suffered early setbacks and had their future questioned but have to their credit addressed many of their problems.

The only excuse for terminating a team or licence should be if they can no longer operate under their own steam. In most other professional football leagues sporting meritocracy also comes into play but let’s not kick that hornet’s nest at the moment.

Right now we have a system that means you either survive within the franchise model or you go bust and if the FFA want they will keep you alive but if not you will no longer exist. There is no safety net or Plan B that we see globally. With such a tenuous grip on existence for the teams that choose to take part in the A-League it is no wonder many football fans are hesitant to get behind a team. Being cast into the oblivion at the governing bodies whim if you don’t meet certain numbers doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Make no mistake that this could happen to any team. Look at North Queensland Fury who never stood a chance once the FFA decided they wanted and it was time for a team from Sydney’s west. Central Coast Mariners are far from safe with their licence having been shopped around in the past before Mick Charlesworth took over. They are hardly out of the woods though. No team is that cease to be seen as necessary to the marketability of the league.

A New Zealand team should never have been invited into the competition once we joined the Asian Football Confederation but it was. When the NZ Knights crashed that was another moment to then say “ok we tried but the New Zealnd experiment isn’t working.” Instead we invited Wellington Phoenix. Why? Because in both cases we needed them. We didn’t want any clubs with ethnic backgrounds and there were not enough interested or viable options in other regions in Australia – even Melbourne Victory did not meet the financial criteria which ruled out many traditional clubs in the beginning – so we invited New Zealand.

A seven team league would’ve been disastrous so a lot of credit and appreciation is owed to our Kiwi cousins for helping to make the A-League possible. Now we feel we are in a position that we don’t need them we decide to give them the boot. Anyway you try and paint that, it’s an act devoid of anything resembling integrity. It’s like inviting someone to a dinner party and then asking them to leave just before they tuck into their main because they only brought a six pack of VB, and there’s word another guest could be on the way reportedly with a carton of Boags.

It was bad enough when we bailed on the Oceania confedration rather than stay and help them develop. Remember we qualified twice through Oceania for the World Cup with the last time being for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Who knows what that and our subsequent impressive display couldve meant for the region? Of course moving to Asia was a good move for Australia but let’s not forget that it also set back football in Oceania.

At what point are we as a sport going to start making some decisions on sporting merits and fairness? Even the decision of venue for the FFA Cup Final is decided by commercial reasons rather than the randomness of a draw. With the governing body taking home the gate of the final as they do with the Aleague Grand Final it’s understandable they want the bigger venue, it doesn’t make it right though. It is dangerous ground to go down when every decision is made purely on squeezing every last cent you can get.

Unless they are given assurances of their long-term future, the Wellington Phoenix should seriously consider withdrawing from the current season ala what Frank Lowy did in 1987 with Sydney City when he withdraw his side early into the National Soccer League season. The difficulty is the players, coaches, support staff and all those in the administration have their jobs to think about as well as the season tickets already paid for by the Nix faithful. As a matter of principle you’d walk but the economic realities means that this would have to be a decision made after consulting all the affected parties.

“Fans, like players, deserve certainty. They should not have to endure the prospect of their club disappearing. This is unheard of in most football nations,” said PFA Chief Executive Adam Vivian in their offical statement.

The uncertainty mentioned by Adam Vivian above is key to this situation. Whether it’s another year or four, would you really want to invest the time, energy and finances into a league with a governing body that you can not trust and has displayed time and time again to care little about doing what’s right? The only thing certain is that football will survive as it has done for many decades despite poor leadership. It is up to us to decide in what kind of environment we want our game to exist.

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