A-League’s bungled restart highlights difficulties in changing Australian football’s narrative

The FFA last week released a discussion paper titled ‘XI Principles for the future of Australian Football’.

In a move which invited the football community to have their say on the future of the game, one of the principles the governing body identified centred around resetting and re-building an optimistic narrative for Australian football.

A focus on this aspect comes after years of negative press, through incidents of political infighting and declining TV ratings across the board.

Sometimes the media attention was justified, sometimes it was not, but the FFA believes the game needs to be in better control of its narrative and unify the footballing public.

In the early hours of Friday morning, a fortnight ago, it had just the perfect news story to get this process underway.

The announcement that Australia were awarded the right to co-host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, was a shot in the arm the game needed.

Let’s not understate this for a second, the FIFA Women’s World Cup is at the very least in the top four biggest sporting tournaments in the world.

Because of this event, football participation will rise significantly, investment in football infrastructure will be prioritised, as well as a host of other positives for the sport.

FFA CEO James Johnson and his team were rightly lauded in securing the event, with the win receiving considerable coverage in the mainstream media.

Importantly, however, it gave football fans in this country a favourable narrative to unify behind, with an event to look forward to, as well as a growing sense of faith in an administration that has promised to put the best intentions of the game first.

How quickly things change in football.

Move forward to this week and the focus is not on the success of the Women’s World Cup bid, but rather the diabolical situation in regards to the resumption of the A-League.

The scenes of players from Victoria’s A-League clubs not being able to leave the state after the rising coronavirus count, were farcical.

It’s an all too familiar moment where the administration has shot itself in the foot, with Supercars facing a similar situation but able to navigate around it in an appropriate, timely manner.

The AFL, NRL and Rugby Union also relocated all of their Victorian teams to other states in advance.

Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) were highly critical of the FFA, after the events that transpired on Monday and Tuesday.

“What the players and their families have had to endure over the past 48 hours is unacceptable,” the PFA said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The lack of clarity, the ad-hoc planning and shifting commitments have left the players embarrassed, frustrated and entirely lacking confidence in the process.

“Whilst the situation is complex, what the players require is simple; a reliable and feasible plan that does not shift the game’s inability to effectively manage these challenges solely on to players and their families.

“Responsibility sits with FFA to present and then execute an achievable resolution that will ensure the completion of the A-League season and does not create further distress for the players.”

FFA’s Head of Leagues, Greg O’Rourke, has accepted responsibility for the stuff up, but ultimately it made the league look amateurish.

This is an example of how quickly the football narrative can change for the worse.

That feeling of positivity and hard work conducted by the FFA to win the hosting rights of The Women’s World Cup has partly come undone.

Instead, the football community is left embarrassed by self-inflicted mismanagement at the top, not by external forces.

It’s once again a case of football being its own worst enemy.

The issue, as of late Thursday night, seems to have been somewhat resolved with an exemption granted to the Victorian clubs to travel to NSW.

James Johnson’s intervention was likely to have been essential, to get his administrative team out of hot water.

“I would personally like to thank the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW Heath Minister, Brad Hazzard, for granting this exemption during these extraordinary times,” he said in a statement.

However, if the governing body is to properly project a positive narrative to get its fanbase on board, they must set higher standards and not sit on their laurels.

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Australia awarded hosting rights for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026

Football Australia have announced that the country has been awarded the hosting rights for the 2026 edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup.

This decision followed official ratification by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Committee at their meeting on 15 May 2024 – held in Bangkok, Thailand – on the eve of the 34th AFC Congress after lengthy discussions. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan had expressed interested in hosting but withdrew from the process.

This will be the second time the country has staged the Women’s Asian Cup, having previously hosted the competition in 2006.

This tournament will feature 12 of the qualified AFC nations, placed into three groups of four with matches played in the confirmed host states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.

Australia co-hosted the record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 alongside New Zealand, with the Matildas making it to the semi-finals and have grown the sport exponentially over the past 12 months.

The success of Australian national teams, including the Subway Socceroos and CommBank Matildas, has led to a nationwide increase in football participation, with an overall 12% increase in 2023 and an impressive 20% increase already noted in 2024.

Football Australia is leveraging the AFC Women’s Asian Cup as a platform to further boost participation and develop the sport, aligning with upcoming international events like the Brisbane 2032 Olympics & Paralympics.

AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa explained the exciting decision to reward Australia another major women’s football tournament.

“On behalf of the Asian Football Confederation, I offer our sincere congratulations to Football Australia on being confirmed as hosts of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026,” he said in a statement.

“I am confident that we will see a more vibrant and competitive edition in 2026 in Australia where the unrivalled passion for the women’s game is so palpable and we wish the Local Organising Committee the very best of success in their planning and preparation.

“I know the Asian football family joins me in reinforcing our confidence in Football Australia to elevate the ever-evolving stature and growth of women’s football in Asia.”

Football Australia Chairman Anter Isaac mentioned the benefits this will bring to the game in Australia.

“Securing the AFC Women’s Asian Cup is a testament to our nation’s dedication to football. It is not only a victory for the sport but for every Australian, offering significant economic and cultural benefits,” he added in a statement.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the AFC, its Executive Committee, the Secretariat, and our fellow member associations for entrusting us with the privilege of hosting this prestigious tournament. We are committed to advancing the exceptional initiatives already established and delivered by the AFC and the broader Asian football community in women’s football.”

Football Australia confirmed its intention to launch a hosting bid in September 2022 and now expects the Women’s Asian Cup to generate up to $260 million in economic output and create over 1,000 jobs for the host states.

These states were chosen after discussions with state governments to ensure they are fully prepared to support the successful delivery of the tournament.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson expressed his excitement for the winning bid and upcoming tournament being played on home soil.

“We are profoundly honoured to host the 2026 edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. This decision reflects the global football community’s confidence in our capability to deliver outstanding events. Following the resounding success of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, we are eager to create another tournament that celebrates women’s football and inspires a new generation,” he stated.

The tournament dates in 2026 will be confirmed with the AFC in due course and training and venue inspections will occur in the coming months.

It remains an extremely exciting time for women’s football in Australia, with the Matildas consistently selling out large stadiums, the growth of the Liberty A-League and now another major tournament on the horizon that is sure to boost the grassroots game as well.

Graham Arnold speaks at AFC National Coaches Conference

Socceroos’ Head Coach Graham Arnold addressed the 3rd Asian Football Confederation (AFC) National Coaches Conference on Thursday, 9 May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The three-day conference reflects on insights gained from the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, while also considering the forthcoming expanded FIFA World Cup in 2026.

It gave Graham Arnold and other AFC associated coaches a chance to exchange ideas and share information in a bid to help improve and inspire each other as Round Three of World Cup Qualification approaches.

Arnold was selected by the AFC and spoke amongst other eminent coaches from across the Confederation including former Manchester City legend Yaya Toure.

After a memorable 2022 World Cup campaign and over three decades of coaching within the confederation, it’s no surprise that Graham Arnold is held in such high regard, and this represents a step forward for Football Australia.

Football Australia CEO, James Johnson spoke on how important it was for Graham Arnold to speak at such an event.

“Arnie’s record and reputation within international football speaks for itself, and his leadership of the Subway Socceroos has been exceptional over the last six years,” Johnson said in an statement for Football Australia.

“His contribution to Australian football as a player and coach extends almost three decades, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge that can help assist the development of our game throughout Asia.

“Arnie is held in high esteem not just here in Australia, but throughout the Confederation and we’re extremely proud to see him playing such a key role in a conference of this significance.”

Socceroos’ Head Coach, Graham Arnold spoke about how honoured he was to be involved in the AFC National Coaches Conference.

“It’s a privilege to be sharing the room with so many fantastic coaches and I’m looking forward to sharing some of my experience with the group,” Arnold said at the event.

“We’ve all taken different journeys into coaching and bring varied perspectives which I think can be really valuable to discuss in this type of environment.

“I’m sure we’ll all walk away with something to take back and share with our respective teams – it’s a great initiative from the AFC.”

It is always positive to see top Australian coaches share and learn critical ideas from other successful names within the Asian football space as the country continues to underscore is commitment to advancing coaching quality.

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