FFA puts its own survival ahead of embattled A-League

There’s a scarcely-known creature called the water bear which can be snap frozen, boiled alive, exposed to massive doses of radiation or cast into outer space - and still survive.


Football Federation Australia Chairman, Steven Lowy (R), and CEO David Gallop Source: AAP

These tiny caterpillar-like critters have been dubbed mother nature’s hardiest earthly inhabitants.

But they may have found a rival in the survival stakes in the form of the besieged board of Football Federation Australia.

Survival and a resilience unparalleled outside the wondrous world of the 1mm-sized water bears has become the raison d’etre of chairman Steven Lowy and his leadership team, no matter what cost to the Australian game.


Experts in deflection, delays, obfuscation, dividing and conquering, Australia’s peak body views its hold on absolute power as a non-negotiable right, handed down from father to son.

In this case former chairman Frank Lowy to Steven.

Contrary to previous expectations, it has thus far evaded being disbanded and replaced by a “normalisation committee”, despite FIFA’s veiled threats to do just that.

With a three-strong delegation from the world ruling body and the AFC back in Sydney for a second time to try and resolve the governance crisis choking the life out of domestic football, FFA’s survival instincts are in overdrive.

It has dangled the carrot of A-League expansion with the inclusion of two new teams in 2019-20, coincidentally announced with great fanfare on the eve of FIFA’s arrival earlier this week. Cynical? You be the judge.

And it continues to portray itself as a impartial arbiter and pro-democracy advocate spearheading the formation, as directed by Zurich, of a congress review working group to determine what shape reform of the game might take in the election of future FFA boards.

Whether FIFA delegates Nodar Akhalkatsi and Luca Nicola, and the AFC’s Ravi Kumar are buying all this, as three days of meetings with the game’s myriad of stakeholders reaches a crescendo on Thursday, is doubtful.

The A-League clubs are certainly not. Included in their lengthy - and damning - submission to FIFA on Wednesday, was a request that FFA be removed from the working group.

The clubs, along with the PFA, rebel state federations NSW and Victoria and second tier advocates that the AAFC view the FFA as administrators, not stakeholders.

It’s been mooted that FIFA’s relationship with the powerful and influential Lowy family is a little too cosy, hence the softy-softly approach in dealing with one of its dysfunctional satellite associations.

But this is no time for further prevarication. There is too much at stake with the A-League appearing to be in free fall across all meaningful metrics, and FFA - in cahoots with its remaining loyalist state federations - seemingly content to let it continue to wither, so long as the status quo is preserved.

FFA’s spin doctors rarely miss the chance to portray the organisation as “non for profit” but neglect to mention it has an annual wage bill believed to be around $8 million, a figure higher than many of its leading counterparts in Western Europe.

CEO David Gallop is thought to be paid in excess of $1 million, which considering the opprobrium leveled at FFA over its disconnect with a raft of stakeholders, seems generous to say the least.

The clubs view the salaries the FFA pays itself as disproportionate with its performance, especially when they are limited to an annual grant of $3.55 million per year through the TV rights deal with Fox Sports.

FFA also presides over the world’s highest registration fees for grassroots players, young and old.

Aware that this is their best - and last chance - to force FIFA to swap rhetoric for meaningful reform in Australia, they want FIFA to widen the scope of the working group to probe FFA's appeal processes and its financial transparency, most pertinently the financial records of the tainted 2022 FIFA World Cup bid.

In another poison arrow aimed at Lowy and co, they have also queried the legitimacy if FFA's existence as a 'corporate' entity able to employ Australian Corporations Law as opposed to an 'association' as directed by FIFA statutes.

They want FIFA to resolve the impasse by June, warning of “impending catastrophic collapse of the professional game in Australia” if the current inertia lingers much longer.

As unpalatable as FIFA might find it, a mercy killing of FFA, as we know it, might be the only way to rescue the game from terminal decline.

Dave Lewis is a football contributor for The World Game and was formerly with The Daily Telegraph.

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4 min read
Published 22 February 2018 at 4:53pm
By Dave Lewis