Are the FFA reforms a missed opportunity?

As the battle to make Football Federation Australia a more democratic and accountable organisation inches towards its conclusion this month, two words come to mind when thinking about the reform models put forward so far: woefully inadequate.

In April FIFA tasked an eight-member working group with fixing the FFA's broken governance structures.

The working group includes four representatives of the state federations, two from the A-League clubs, one from Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and one FFA board member lead by London-based lawyer Judith Griggs as the independent chairperson.

The group has been ordered to deliver its proposal to FIFA and the AFC by July 31, which must be submitted by September 7 at a special general FFA meeting.

As it stands, the FFA’s Congress -- its ‘supreme and legislative body’ -- contains 10 members: one from each of the state and territory bodies (including Northern NSW), and one representing the A-League clubs.

With the subordinate state bodies controlling all but one vote, the FFA has effectively been able to get its people “voted” on to its board, subverting a key principle of good governance.

“The current FFA board is no less ‘stacked’ than the former Soccer Australia board was,” whistleblower and activist Bonita Mersiades told me in 2016, as the depths of FIFA’s concern over the FFA’s governance practices came to light. “It’s simply stacked another way.”

In response to FIFA’s grievances, the FFA originally proposed a 15-member model which would give the A-League clubs more power, but leave the states' voting block still in charge.

The counter-offer from the clubs and the players’ union, the PFA, removed this power from the states. But with just 16 members, it leaves Australia a long, long way behind the rest of the world (as does the FFA’s updated 16-vote offer).

Consider the case of Norway. Its congress contains around 350 members. It is a set-up designed to inspire confidence in the organisation’s democratic practices. And it is hardly an outlier.

Camille Boillat and Raffaele Poli analysed the governance structures of a range of member associations (MAs), and published their findings in 2014’s Governance models across football associations and leagues.

Every European MA they studied had a minimum triple-figure membership. The congress of Italy contains close to 300 members, while those of Germany and France each had over 250.

Even Europe’s smallest congress, found in Switzerland, has over 100 members.

Japan, an emerging football nation and a good point of comparison for Australia, has a 48-member congress. It’s a similar story in Brazil.

Only New Zealand Football, with seven members, had fewer members than Australia.

Chart: Congress Size v Board Size


Special Interest Groups

Size isn’t the only area where the proposed reforms are lacking.

In other MAs, special interest groups have strong representation in their national congresses.

These groups typically include, at a minimum, ones representing players, coaches and referees. Often there is a member for the futsal community, and another for women’s football.

In South Africa, members representing doctors, intellectual impaired footballers and army footballers are amongst 12 such groups given a spot in their congress. England has a place for a member representing racial equality.

Elsewhere, you can find representatives for supporters. Indeed, the EU has called for fans -- who, lets face it, the game would not survive without -- to have a greater voice in their MA’s congresses.

But the lack of such groups has always been an issue in Australia.

Under the Soccer Australia model, only referees were represented. The Crawford report, which reviewed the old system and laid out principles for the FFA to adopt, called the lack of such representation a ‘critical’ concern, and called for futsal players, women, players and coaches to also have a voice.

Instead, none got a voice, making the Australian congress a rare example where special interest groups are entirely voiceless.

The proposed reforms barely go far enough in addressing this. While players and female footballers will get a seat, all the other groups will be kept silent.

The inclusion of interest groups not only gives a voice to more people involved in the game, but would dilute the power of the two main voting blocks, the states and the A-League clubs.

State and Territory Power

Whatever model is adopted, the power of the state will be diminished. But none of the proposed reforms address the overrepresentation of the territories.

In the days of Soccer Australia, each state/territory received a number of votes based loosely on their size and participation base. It wasn’t perfect, but the Crawford reforms suggested a similar model.

The model chosen by the FFA saw the one-state (or territory), one-vote system used. Although common in other Australian sports, the voting scandals at FIFA have highlighted how problematic such a system is.

Smaller states can be easily bought off or won over, giving them undue influence on the affairs of the organisation, and thus exposing the congress to corruption.

Not even the Senate gives the territories the same voting rights as the states, yet in the FFA Congress, the Northern Territory and ACT are as powerful as New South Wales.

Meanwhile, Tasmania, with barely two per cent of the country’s population and less than two per cent of registered players, has the same sway as Victoria.

Unfortunately, the clubs and PFA have not tried to do away with this system. Unsurprisingly, neither has the FFA.

FIFA’s working group hands in its solution to the impasse between the warring parties at the end of this month.

If it is serious about reforming the FFA, it might consider scrapping the models currently on offer and implementing something in line with world best practice.

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5 min read
Published 17 July 2018 at 2:28pm
By Jack Kerr