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PFA Welcomes Review of Australian Football

MELBOURNE: Sunday 24 April 2011

Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has welcomed the review of football in Australia announced today by Australian Sports Minister Senator The Hon Mark Arbib. The Australian Government has asked the Hon Warwick Smith AM, the Chair of the Australian Sports Commission, to conduct the review.

(C) Getty Images. The PFA has welcomed the Smith review into Australian football.

The review, according to a statement issued by Minister Arbib,

“will assess the structure, governance and administration of football in Australia, examine the development of its positioning for the (2015) Asian Cup and identify key opportunities to ensure the financial viability and sustainability of football in Australia. It will be conducted in conjunction with, and with the support of, the FFA (Football Federation Australia).”

The review is expected to take Mr Smith four to five months to complete.

PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said that the review presents the ideal opportunity for the game to embrace a second wave of reform following, as it does, some eight years after the 2003 Crawford Report helped herald a new era for Australian football.
 
“The Government’s decision to appoint an eminent and independent expert to conduct a review of the sport’s governance and structure to secure the sport’s long term future is very welcome,” Schwab said.  “FFA is to be applauded for its support.

“The change program for Australian football is so great that it would be naive to suggest it can be completed in a single phase.  Football cannot afford to stand still.”

The PFA believes that the relationship between FFA and the professional game – especially the A-League – will be among the key governance and structural issues to be examined by Mr Smith.

“The A-League is the foundation on which the game must be built in Australia,” Schwab said.

“We have no doubt that, with the correct positioning, structure and direction, the A-League can succeed commercially on the back of sufficient crowds, television audiences and commercial revenues.  This will allow the sport to approach its many other responsibilities from a position of strength,” Schwab added.

In 2003, the Australian Government sponsored report by corporate governance expert Mr David Crawford recommended a fundamental overhaul of Australian football. 

Rapid progress has since been achieved through some key moves all financially supported by the Australian Government and, in turn, the private sector: first, the establishment of a new governing body in FFA under the chairmanship of Mr Frank Lowy AC; second, the establishment of the A-League in place of the former National Soccer League; and, third, Australia’s admission into the Asian Football Confederation.

Coupled with outstanding on-field results from the Socceroos who qualified for successive FIFA World Cup Finals for the first time, Australian football has begun to tap its undoubted potential.

“After achieving so much under Mr Lowy since the first wave of reform, it is now time for Australian football to embrace further change,” Schwab said.  “Vitally, change must be approached in a similarly informed and collaborative process as in 2003 in order to entrench and strengthen football’s long term place as a major player in the Australian sports and entertainment industry.”

According to the PFA, Australian football has yet to resolve some fundamental issues.  These include:

  • the governance and structure of FFA, the A-League and the A-League clubs, and the relationship between them;
  • the maximisation, spending and distribution of the game’s revenues;
  • succession;
  • the optimal location of A-League clubs and the stadia in which they play;
  • substantial turnover in A-League club owners and personnel, which has undermined the commonality of purpose so necessary to the viability of the A-League as a business venture;
  • development of a confident football culture;
  • the relationship between the A-League and the underlying competition structures;
  • the alignment of the A-League clubs with the football communities they are designed to serve;
  • the relationship between the professional and the amateur games;
  • the comparatively high fees charged to registered participants;
  • the role of the State and Territory Federations and the question of whether they should be abolished and merged into a single structure; and
  • the rationale behind FFA’s decision not to implement key recommendations of the Crawford Report, especially regarding the governance and structure of the A-League.

“Despite annual revenues of about $160 million and the opportunity to achieve exponential growth, talk of financial problems within the Australian football industry remains constant,” Schwab said.  “Even with the discipline of a salary cap, owners are losing money and players have once again had their careers damaged, as a number of contracts have not been honoured after the termination or transfer of A-League club licences.

“The PFA believes this is due to a lack of strategic focus on securing the commercial viability of the professional game for the benefit of all stakeholders and the football loving public.

“With the current media rights deal due to expire in 2013, the game must act swiftly to maximise the value we have to offer potential broadcasters.  With that and the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in mind, the timing of Mr Smith’s review could not be better,” Schwab concluded.

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