Media attacks on State Federations are misplaced

On Sunday the 19th of April Optus broadcast a discussion between six high profile former Socceroos about the state of Australian Football. Many items were discussed including aligning the A-League season with the rest of Asian and Grassroots football, the necessity of promotion-relegation, and deficiencies of an overly prescriptive coaching curriculum.

Media outlets mined the discussion for content, however the topics they subsequently chose to cover raise a few eyebrows. The Sydney Morning Herald for example picked two topics, Viduka’s comments regarding restatement of the AIS… and Mark Schwarzer’s comments regarding the abolition of State Federations.

The argument to remove State Federations has merit. It is thought this will create operating and financial efficiencies. Operationally, layers of red tape would be removed, facility usage can be better coordinated, national programs can be rolled out quicker. Financially, football would be able to minimise working capital requirement and reduce overheads… in theory.

However this commentary often throws the baby out with the bathwater. Schwarzer, and subsequent commentators are quick to point out the theoretical benefits of State Federation abolition, but fail to critique benefits of the current system, explore the alternative systems or propose pathways to replace State Federations. Ultimately Football fans want coordination and collaboration, not unilateralism. It’s not enough to say ‘get rid of them’ the public needs to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’.

Well… is the alternative feasible?

There is only one realistic alternative proposed… and that is an expanded FFA. However is this a feasible alternative? The FFA constantly comes under fire for mismanagement and has been politically unstable for nearly a decade.

A-League independence is up in the air due to a rapidly deteriorating relationship with Foxtel and the only metrics delivered by the delayed expansion process have been in an uptick in Western United conspiracy theories on the Inside Sport Forum and SokkaTwitter. Although the last decade has seen some great success (2015 Asian Cup, Qualification to the Olympics) these success have not been enough to change public sentiment of the FFA, which is almost universally negative.

So here’s the sad thing – journalist, commentators and ex-employees’ calls to replace the State Federations will not bring anything but negativity to the game. This is because the only feasible alternative, an expanded FFA, is so at odds with public sentiment that following through with such a switch would be publicly and politically incomprehensible. 

Is there even a pathway to get there?

Not in a million years…. save for a political miracle, government intervention or widespread insolvency (ok, on second thoughts not in… um… at least 10 years?) the only way States can be replaces would be if they voted against their own interests and sacrificed their power. State Federations currently hold 55% of the votes to the FFA Board and constitutional change. Unfortunately that means voting for the elimination of some of their own cushy jobs and relinquishing the power to new stakeholders.

Even in a scenario where States were to vote yes, the political dogfight between stakeholders as voting rights are reallocated would decimate the game more so than the last reallocation of voting rights – which already shrunk State voting power down from 90%. Privately owned A-League licence holders and the PFA would also have a huge say in this reallocation which leads to other questions. Would professional clubs allow grassroots clubs or supporters a vote? Would the PFA allow referees or coaches a vote?

The pathway to replacing State Federations is fraught with the risk of self-interest fueled internal conflict that Australian Football can’t even consider now… because it’s still recovering from the last one.

Are there any benefits to having the State Federations?

The case for State Federations is a case against systematic risk. Voting blocks may slow progress but a conservative, slow approach safe guards against fast and loose mistakes. The FFA’s national rollout of the NPL was an example of where action was slowed down. The NPL is far from perfect but States have been able to try different systems more suited to their stakeholder. An example of this is Victoria’s recently announced a separation of senior and junior NPL programs.

State Federations can also provide healthy diversification of ideas and systems. Football Victoria and Football NSW, not the FFA, led the way for live streaming of NPL games which was rolled out to Queensland and South Australia. Football NSW, not the FFA, also created a framework to coordinate facilities funding. Football Victoria, not the FFA, publicised a plan to create a home base for the Matildas. FFA focus on the A-League, National Teams and World Cup bid in the past saw a vacuum of leadership for Grassroots issues, one that has been filled in part by the States.

The case for efficiency is clear but it’s not like the existence of State Federations offer no benefits to the game, because they do.

So, what can we do?

People love the easy sale of a top down system, but if such a system is going to work in Australia – it needs to start to work. The FFA already has the foundation relationships and infrastructure to coordinate national movements.

The FFA Cup is exactly the kind of operation State Federation Critics should take notice of. It is a successful, unifying, nationally coordinated competition that benefits all stakeholders. The FFA did this, and they did it while the State Federations existed! Shock horror! We don’t need to use the State Federations as an excuse, we need the FFA to show leadership. Sure things might take longer, but with a correctly stated purpose and collaborative communication, just like the FFA Cup, Australia can and will have have successful national football coordination. Why can’t the FFA…

  • Create new programs that bypass state jurisdictions like a new AIS program or a national leagues systems like the A-League or proposed second division?
  • Propose national visions with State input like a national facilities strategy, historical society or national statistics database?
  • Use State Federations for good by creating helpful competitions to incentivise State player development and communicate standards that empower State constituents to democratically push their boards?

They CAN do this now. The FFA CAN coordinate national football programs now – yes – even with the existence of the states.

This also doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of the States, we SHOULD be critical of the State but rather than catch all cries to scrap them all the Media should shine a light on specific cases of poor management and programs that better inform the voting public to hold their State Boards to account.

State Federation Negativity is a cop-out!

The comment to remove State Federations is a cruch, an excuse, a cop out. It points to a quick fix theoretical but completely impractical solution that consolidates power, increases systematic risk and ignores practical alternatives that exist now.

We don’t need conversations about removing the states, we need conversations that push the FFA to lead the way and push State Federations to be more collaborative and democratic.


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