The FFA have opened their borders and are now taking applications for the admittance of new football citizens of the A-League, and even footballing refugees from the NSL are being considered. It has captured the attention of the football community and dominated the talk on the game.
One thing almost all football fans, administrators and media agree on is that a 10-team national league is not enough for Australia to develop and grow as a footballing nation. It may be the only thing which there is unanimous support for within a community that loves to bicker about everything and anything. However, how this expansion takes place and who happens to be the “lucky” ones chosen is, of course, being debated.
Who is accepted into an expanded competition is of minor importance if the current franchise model is not changed. Until there is a commitment to fundamental change of the ownership model and a concrete commitment to introducing a fair and meritorious sporting system, the latest expansion proposal is merely a sugar-hit, a quick fix with no vision or long-term considerations.
It’s great to see groups and clubs from Canberra, Brisbane, Tasmania, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, rural Victoria and New South Wales all expressing an interest in top flight competition. This is a clear indication that the football community is truly national and interest exists for increased participation at the national level.
Participation at the highest level of any sport though should not be an issue of outside factors like metrics but each team’s individual business model, judged on their unique circumstances, and sporting merit. The fear though is that this new wave of expansion talk is merely a quick cash grab from an organisation that has just posted it’s first loss since 2011. Given how lucrative the sale and resale of licences has been for the FFA, it is no surprise that they want to expand to 12 teams given the existing A-League franchise owners look to be in a relative state of stability. The impending TV deal is also in play which makes us wonder if we are looking at another North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United situation which saw two teams rushed in for the World Cup bud and then shown little support from the head office once the purpose had been served.
What is the vision for football in Australia? More importantly where is the vision for the game? Everything the FFA do seems to be reactionary whether it be the issues of fan rights, women’s football, Pararoos support and now the make up of the A-league competition. Nothing seems to be part of predetermined and progressive policy-making which shows that the ship is being steered towards a specific destination.
The Whole of Football Plan was basically just a document dedicated to stating the obvious. Of course, we want to grow participation of the sport, of course we want the national league to increase in popularity, this is what every sporting organisation wishes for their code. The “how” is where we want to see something more substantial, something we can get behind or dissect depending on it’s merit.
We are being asked to have faith in a group that flip flops more than a sausage in a hot pan, a group that are all rhetoric and talk but little action, a group that has shown no true understanding of the football community, a group that shows more interest in chasing the approval of non-football fans and media than looking after the passionate and loyal football supporters. This latest expansion talk smacks of the type of sugar hit the FFA offer when forced into a corner. The calls for a second division and promotion/relegation get louder by the day from the public and media so expansion is the perfect distraction.
The FFA have become experts at the slow drip feed to the Australian football community. Every time our hunger pains start to appear they feed as a few morsels here and there just to stop a full blown revolt. We’re forever being promised the main course is coming but in the mean time have another roll. Expansion is needed and that can’t be questioned but without a bigger picture attached such as an open tier system and the ability to have horses for courses ownership then it is nothing but more bread. Is this expansion just a way to silence the calls for true growth through a second division and promotion/relegation?
People argue that we need to ensure the existing A-League teams need to be stable and viable before a second division or promotion/relegation can be introduced, that we need to be cautious in taking these big steps that almost every country in the world bar Australia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand have taken. If the current system and current model is flawed then doesn’t it make sense to change it to one which has had much more success in the global sport of football?
In open and free leagues, if a club can not survive or compete and as a result ceases to exist the fault is on the club and their board, but if a club fails in a closed and controlled league, it is the fault of the system. It is 12 seasons now and the inaction and lack of introspection is obvious for all but with no real change in management this is not a big surprise.
Football needs expansion but not just of teams in the top flight but an expansion of ideas, an expansion of the plans in place, an expansion of the ambition and vision for the game.