Happy new year, soccer fans. Have your resolutions survived a full week? Has anything on your wish list had a rocky start? Do you even have a wish list for 2018?
Or would that just be fanciful – hoping for many good things to happen in Australian soccer?
My list isn’t long. In fact, it only has two items.
Firstly, as it’s a FIFA World Cup year (which automatically makes it better than the last three years, and the next three), I hope the Socceroos make it to the knockout phase.
And I’d like to see peace break out between FFA and the A-League clubs, and others that are involved in or love the game in Australia.
But most of you reading probably know as well as I do that, however improbable my first wish is, that dream is the one that’s more likely to be realised.
In case you’ve somehow missed the governance dispute, the shortest explanation is that the FFA Congress, which manages how the game is run across Australia, is currently made up of 10 members and nine of those are state or territory associations. The A-League clubs have the other vote and want more.
Chair of FFA Steven Lowy put forward a model which would give the A-League clubs four votes along with one for the Professional Footballers Association, one representing professional women’s football, and one representing women’s football at community level.
Just over a month ago, the proposed changes were put to the current FFA Congress and were supported by seven of its 10 members. But a 75 per cent majority is needed.
Hanging over that vote was that FIFA might intervene. But the sport’s international governing body didn’t do so (though it still might) and now we wait for the next moves.
Nevertheless, I don’t see how one vote here or one vote there will result in real resolution because it’d only be the first step in what might be the biggest change the sport has seen here since 2003 when the old governing body, Soccer Australia, was dissolved.
Debate will continue about many matters with control over the running of the A-League, and the resulting financial carve up, central to the clubs’ concerns.
You wouldn’t expect people to play nice with so much at stake but the resulting hostility is affecting several areas in the game.
The most recent instalment was A-League clubs complaining about losing players to the Australian under-23 team for the Asian Football Confederation’s U-23 Championship which begins tomorrow.
In 2016 the competition acted as Asia’s qualifiers for the men’s football tournament at that year’s Olympics and the same is likely in 2020. But this year’s doesn’t.
Yet it is an official tournament in the Asian Confederation and the results will affect Australia’s seeding for the next edition.
Australia was only seeded eighth for the current tournament – anything worse than that might result in a difficult draw for the team that takes part in 2020.
And even though only four spots are available for Asian teams at the next Olympics (with one being taken by Japan as the host nation), failure to qualify will result in more disappointment for Aussie fans, many of whom were used to seeing Australia getting a regular ticket to its men’s football tournament when all that was needed was victory in the Oceania Confederation.
By then the complaints about players being selected for the current tournament will be mostly forgotten.
There’s no question that losing players at a busy time for the A-League is a blow to several clubs, however, the continuing governance dispute magnifies all others.
A lot of fans are grumpier than normal as well. Many want change even though no one really knows how that will look. The perception that some evolution is needed, now that the game’s great overhaul was more than a decade ago, is shared by many observers.
The current climate magnifies their outrage too whether it’s over matters that are fundamental to the sport’s future here (such as A-League expansion, better marketing/coverage of both men’s and women’s soccer, stadium infrastructure, and the costs of following the game) or those that aren’t (e.g. video assistant referees).
Maybe we need to be more patient. We’ve always wanted what we can’t have – seeing the game thrive here in the way it does in nations where it’s always been top of the charts.
Still, while it’s better being an Australian soccer fan now than it was 15 years ago, it’s also reasonable to expect some progress.
It mightn’t take much – just a few positive steps might calm a lot of us down.
But either way, I can’t see 2018 bringing us a happy resolution for the governance battle. I hope I’m wrong.
Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.
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