Below is the text of the letter we sent to FFA CEO, James Johnson, with feedback on the XI Principles.
It is good to see a ‘living document’ that will form the basis of consultation, and we welcome most of the aspirations outlined in it.
For example, to highlight just a few, we like the idea of aligning the football season; we believe it is imperative to reduce duplication, overlap and cost in the multiple layers of Australian football administration; and we are enthusiastic supporters of the ‘FFA TV’ concept, which was also recently advocated by The Golden Generation.
As you would be aware, the real test comes from the next stage. It is good to have a vision to underpin what we do, but it will succeed or fail based on how the vision is operationalised, how it is implemented, and how it is resourced.
Rather than go through every detail of the document, we will focus on those areas in which Women in Football is particularly interested and where we believe we can add some value.
Role of women in football
We do not agree with the view that there should be a target date for a “first female” Chairman and CEO of FFA. In order to secure the continued development of the code in Australia, it is essential that appointments to all positions are based on merit, not whether an individual meets a particular gender criterion.
Our view – and it is one implicit in our establishment and our mission and objectives – is that, if more women are given more opportunity to be involved in the game, then the talent pool will expand and, inevitably and organically, a highly qualified woman will make her way through the ‘grass ceiling’. This also applies to Indigenous people and people of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.
The point is that, with some exceptions, football administration tends not to shape an environment that is welcoming of women or which is conducive to women participating at decision-making levels as much as they might like to. This is the issue that needs to be addressed. It is one of the reasons why we set-up Trixie’s List to give women (and men) an opportunity to flag their interest in volunteer and professional positions in football, and to mentor people interested in careers in football.
We would also note that s44 of the FFA Constitution requires 40:40:20 representation on the boards of all Federations, Committees, Associations and Clubs affiliated with FFA, an issue we monitor and report on annually. There appears to be no plan to achieve this in either the FFA XI Principles or the topline summary of the 10-year business case for women and girls distributed by the FFA Women’s Council in June.
Women’s professional playing opportunities
We are pleased that the vision includes a Women’s FFA Cup. We made this suggestion in our October 2019 discussion paper, Improving Opportunities for Professional Women’s Football, along with an expanded W-League, an Asian Champions League for women and a national second division (NSD) for women.
On this latter point, we are disappointed that there is very little ambition evident regarding a NSD for either men or women, let alone promotion and relegation.
While we appreciate and recognise that there are financial sustainability issues that need to be satisfied, and existing A-League license holders will not welcome promotion and relegation, the fact is Australia cannot and will not be considered a “leading voice in global football” – as set out in XI Principles – without a NSD and, ultimately, promotion and relegation.
We would extend this further than the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) and include a NSD for women.
We do not accept the view that there are insufficient women players to form a NSD in Australia; more to the point, there are insufficient opportunities for women players to play to the best of their potential. Faced with cashed-up competition from other sports, some talented players drop out.
Further, if the plan is to increase participation to 3.7 million people and to have 50:50 representation amongst playing ranks compared with the current 78:22, then there are going to be significantly more female players who will not only need somewhere to play (facilities, which is recognised in XI Principles), but something worthwhile to play (i.e. more and better quality competition). It is important that the groundwork is prepared for this now. In this regard, we support the recommendation of The Golden Generation that we leverage the anticipated interest from the 2023 World Cup by committing to a NSD for women by 2025.
Rather than some W-League players also playing in the WNPL – which would, in effect, mean that the W-League would be the only competition not aligned to the winter season - we believe that resources should be invested in the W-League to improve the quality of the competition. As we wrote in our October 2019 paper:
“The A-League licensees should be prepared to improve their level of investment in the W-League, not merely from an equity perspective but from a business perspective and broadening the offering to the football community.”
Having said that, we are not comfortable with a target of 50:50 participation if that is to the detriment of the boys’ and men’s game. Just as girls and women should not be excluded from playing or from access to facilities, it would be a retrograde step if the 50:50 target resulted in a relative decline of male participation, particularly as one of the greatest contests in the Australian sporting landscape (besides hearts, minds and wallets) is for playing numbers and elite talent.
We would prefer to see a target for female participation that is not indexed to male participation, as we would wish to see the entire game grow and flourish from grassroots to elite levels.
If there are specific areas that need attention, such as women, Indigenous, CALD, refugees, impaired athletes, then we focus on that area with specific programs.
It is important if we are to be leader in Indigenous programs – and that, in itself, is a worthwhile aim - that Indigenous programs are broadened beyond the current offering of JMF Football. While they do good work, the Indigenous community deserves and needs programs that are tailored and relevant to them in their respective communities. Further, the close, fiduciary relationship between JMF and FFA and individuals associated with both organisations is an issue which, for FFA’s own sake, should be broadened.
In terms of participation, we suggest that FFA’s first aim should be to convert the 1.4 million current participants, as defined in the National Participation Report, who are not registered players into being registered participants. This has obvious advantages commercially and with government stakeholders. We also suggest the estimated number of volunteers of 23,322 is an understatement. This assumes less than 10 volunteers for each of the 2,400 community clubs. A February 2018 survey by AAFC estimated their 121 member clubs had a total of 4,700 volunteers, or approximately 38 volunteers per club.
We note also that FFA estimates 46% of volunteers are female. We believe women volunteers are the key to enhanced fan engagement and conversion of participants to fans, principally because of their influential role in a family unit in deciding on discretionary expenditure and family entertainment options.
Women in Football has introduced a Volunteer of the Year award (as well as Media Award and Emerging Leader Award) which we will be presenting for the first time in 2021 at the Women’s Football Festival. (This year’s plans were postponed due to COVID-19). We have previously invited FFA and the state member federations (MFs) to be involved in this but we have had no response.
We question the need to so thoroughly endorse the vision of the current FIFA President regarding new international competitions when they have not all been approved by the FIFA Council or Congress and have not yet been costed.
History, Heritage and Stories
We were surprised to read about the engagement of refugee and migrant communities as being “recent” on more than one occasion in XI Principles. We refer you to publications such as the Encyclopedia of Socceroos by Andrew Howe and Chronicles of Soccer in Australia: The Foundation Years 1859 to 1949 by Peter Kunz and other works – or, indeed, a myriad of individuals or clubs - for an overview of the long history of involvement in the shaping of our game by migrants and refugees.
Other than references to a possible Australian Football Museum, we are disappointed there is no reference to the intent of the significant work undertaken by the Heritage Committee (of which Board member Remo Nogarotto was Chairman) that met several times from August 2019 to January 2020, and which was poised, inter alia, to launch a heritage brandmark.
We endorse the role of clubs as the hub of the football community and vital to achieving the vision and values espoused.
We would also support the view of AAFC that there does not need to be an adjective in front of the word ‘club’; all clubs in Australia should have shared values and principles, even if they have different coloured shirts and vastly different turnovers.
We strongly support the move towards a ‘One Football’ governance framework, both in terms of good governance and management practice and contributing to reducing the cost of playing, as well as reducing overlap, duplication and administrative burden on time-poor volunteers.
It was interesting to learn from XI Principles that, of the approximately $9 million, FFA receives from players each year – what has been termed the ‘great big player tax’ – about two-thirds of that is returned to the state member federations by way of grants.
If we take Queensland as an example, that means each SAP player pays roughly $83 to the administration of Football Queensland (FQ).
If we include other revenue sourced from players (e.g. representative programs), around 75% of FQ’s income is derived from players, which suggests there is little value added by FQ in its own right.
In our view, this is a reason not only to conduct a study of the cost of playing football, but also a study of the cost of delivering football – in other words a cost-benefit analysis of the component parts of football administration. We suspect it would provide helpful arguments to support the idea of a “one football budget” as outlined in XI Principles.
We also suggest that, as FFA retains only about $3 million of the ‘great big player tax’ that it be abolished. It would send a strong message of intent, and demonstrate good faith with the grassroots football community.
We agree that there should be a “strong and unified voice” with government. In this regard, the streamlining of administration and administrative responsibilities is crucial. Just as football does not need 10 Chairman, 10 CEOs, 10 chief financial officers etcetera, it does not need 10 different people working on a government engagement strategy.
The FFA XI Principles suggests strengthening the “working relationship with the Women’s Football Council”. However, the Women’s Football Council is merely a ‘political fix’ for the sake of completing the negotiations of the Congress Review Working Group almost two years ago. It is not representative of anyone but pre-existing members of the FFA Congress; the chairperson is supposedly an independent appointment. Based on the current composition of the Council:
the A-League club representatives include two Board members and an employee of an A-League club;
two state MF Board members, including the Chairman of a MF who, in effect, has two votes on Congress - which is both inappropriate from a governance perspective and does nothing to support or encourage a ‘new’ or ‘different’ woman to be involved - and one vacant position for the past 11 months (which perhaps speaks volumes about the importance MFs place on the Women’s Council);
three current players including two Matildas; and
a chairperson whose company is in a fiduciary relationship with FFA and is responsible for a FFA deliverable for government funding. This does not pass any pub test of ‘independence’.
By contrast, Women in Football Australia Inc. is an independent, non-profit organisation registered in Tasmania, open to women and men, with membership drawn from all over Australia and which meets the 40:40:20 requirement of s44 of the FFA Constitution. Our members are involved in football professionally and voluntarily, from grassroots to elite level. The experience of our committee encompasses grassroots to elite also for both the men’s and women’s games and spans the NSL and A-League eras. We are also a registered charity under the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. We wrote to FFA in May 2020 applying to become a Qualifying Member of the FFA Congress, in accordance with s6.3 of the Constitution, but we have not heard anything further.
We wish you all the best in the next steps.