After COVID-19 Australian football should be returned to its base

As an industry, Australian football has the opportunity to pull off the most stunning and successful transformation in a post COVID-19 environment.

Whilst governments, business and other sporting organisations consistently speak of things eventually returning to normal, football as a whole should in fact be steering its ship on a completely new course. In fact, seeing the Australian version of the round ball game return to exactly what it was prior to the world pandemic, could in fact be fatal.

The fundamental contemporary problem in the Australian game has been the creation of the top-tier A-League, at the expense of maintaining connections with the past and those beneath. In essence, not enough people care about the new league and asking “Why should they?” is a reasonable and fair minded question.

Thousands of football fans across the country have little or no allegiance to the ten Australian based clubs in the A-League competition. Most prefer to remain active within and connected to their community based clubs and hence, the growing interest we have seen in NPL play around Australia.

A-League club membership numbers generally run at around 100,000 per season; an astonishingly low figure when near two million men, women and children play the game each year. Having just 5 per cent of active footballers as members of Australia’s fully professional clubs is an appalling ratio and remarkably different to other countries, where clubs engage far more effectively with fans and players.

A study by Statista.com found that between 2007 and 2016, of the 11 million footballers regularly playing the game in England, somewhere just short of 20 per cent were active members of football clubs. It ought to be noted that those figures are not only memberships of the big and powerful clubs but also smaller ones across all levels of England’s domestic game.

Even a doubling of Australia’s paltry percentage would bring the most stunning increases in revenue, attendance and corporate involvement. Getting an additional 100,000 active footballers to support and join an A-League club in Australia should not be a particularly difficult task.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rather fortuitously created a scenario that, if grasped correctly by a well informed and daring governing body, could re-connect many of the severed ties within the game. Football will no doubt be back and perhaps sooner than many people originally thought, as the curve begins to flatten and case levels drop. However, it must come back reformed and restructured.

When it does return, after what will hopefully be a stunning make-over, football has the potential to instantly re-establish connections between grass roots clubs, semi-professional play in the NPL and the game at an elite level.

Financially, the industry will be in ruin, most sports will be, with the financial bottom line in the corporate sector looking grim and making vast and new investment opportunities unlikely. As such, A-League salary caps may well be halved or even scrapped, yet that could in fact be the blessing in disguise required to truly nationalise the game and implement promotion and relegation across the country.

As things stood until recently, new licenses handed out by FFA were the only means by which a new club could enter the A-League. With the clubs now bound to be cash-strapped, NPL1 clubs that lacked the financial clout, stadium or infrastructure to demand promotion to the top-tier, would find that transition far easier.

FFA should announce that the 2020/21 season will see the current eleven clubs compete once again for the A-League Championship. Next winter, when NPL1 champions are confirmed around the country, promotion play-offs should be played. Two clubs would earn the right to play A-League football in 2021/22, at the expense of the two demoted from the top tier.

Some adjustments would need to be made to scheduling, with NPL1 needing to be completed in time for the promotion play-offs to take place and the newly promoted clubs given at least two months to prepare for a new season. Players would need to be signed prior to an A-League October kick-off, yet if NPL play was to be completed in July, rather than late August, as it is across much of the nation, there would be enough time for a club to prepare.

Once the initial incarnation of promotion/relegation is complete, all tiers of football would then move to a spring to autumn season. The machinations of promotion/relegation in the lower tiers of NPL play would take place as usual and uniformity within the game would finally be achieved.

Ironically, it would be a shattered and torn industry, one filled with unpaid players and staff in limbo that may well afford Australian football the greatest opportunity it has ever had. It would undoubtedly be difficult yet also rewarding in the long term. Taking a step back before taking two forward may well be the smartest thing the game ever does.

Attempting to build interest and growth in the game at the elite level has not worked, as the A-League continued to tread water. Perhaps, in the face of tragedy, the time is nigh to return the Australian game to the base, within a framework that takes everybody along for the ride.

Staff Writer
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Federal Budget commits $97 million investment for sport programs

The 2024-25 Federal Budget, which was released on Tuesday night, includes more than $97 million over two years to the ASC to extend Sporting Schools, the Local Sporting Champions, and Local Para Champions programs, and participation funding to help more Australians get active.

This two-year extension runs until 30 June 2026 and helps kids of all different sports afford an opportunity to play at a local level if they come from and under privileged background.

Football Australia is a part of the Sporting Schools program, with each state offering participation Officers and local clubs that are ready to implement in-school and after-school programs for students of ages up to Year 8, plus all abilities programs.

Football Australia use this program to link local football clubs with schools to facilitate an ongoing relationship and provide further opportunity for students to continue their football journey outside of school, whether that be MiniRoos Kick Off, MiniRoos Club or Junior Football.

More than 24,000 young Australians will be supported with the Local Sporting Champions (LSC) and Local Para Champions (LSP) grants programs continuing for a further two years.

These are fantastic programs that have supported Australia’s best athletes including many Matildas like Courtney Nevin, Cortnee Vine, Alex Chidiac, Teagan Micah and Clare Hunt.

World Cup veteran’s Caitlin Foord and Ellie Carpenter also rose to success with assistance from the LSC program throughout their junior careers.

Australian Sports Commission CEO Kieren Perkins OAM mentions the importance of this investment to continue critical national sporting programs.

“Once again, I want to thank Minister Wells and the Australian Government for their continued support and investment in Australian sport,” Perkins said in a statement.

“This funding extends critical sport participation programs like the Participation Grant program and Sporting Schools which provides free and fun sporting opportunities to more than two million students each year.

“This follows last week’s announcement of $249.7 million to upgrade the AIS Campus to ensure our athletes have access to the world’s best testing and training facilities, and accommodation ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

This is a fantastic initiative that will benefit football amongst other sports and has a history of helping kids of all skill levels play in their respective sport.

The Federal Budget have put in almost $350 to improve sport, mostly around the 2032 Olympic Games but it is great to see some investment in the world game after the huge success of the Women’s World Cup last year.

The biggest Female Football Week to date draws to a close

Female Football week is at its climax across the country with each respective state firmly involved in what has been a monumental year of growth and perseverance with one of the hottest topics amongst the sporting plethora across the nation.

Symbolising the significant strides in which female football has made down under, off the back of its maiden World Cup hosting tenure.

Football Queensland throughout the grand occasion were busy shining a spotlight upon the continuous growth of participation, encouraging women of all ages to become involved and immersed within the global game.

Football Victoria – Commentary

Football Victoria (FV) celebrated women’s football week in style.

Round 8 of the National Premier League Women’s (NPLW) competition within Victoria was unique throughout its coverage, with every match throughout the round featuring a female commentator.

A monumental feat spearheaded by the FV Commentary team, this was the first time an all female commentary round was executed.

Football Queensland

FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci disclosed his appreciation for the momentous occasion via the FQ website.

“While celebrations like FFW serve as a crucial milestone in FQ’s journey towards achieving 50/50 gender parity by 2027 and helps to further reinforce our commitment to enhancing accessibility and inclusivity, our support is not confined to this week, as we remain dedicated to prioritising our female football community year-round.”

Football Queensland – Award Ceremony

Paying homage to Referees, Club Volunteers, Players and Community Champions of the year was conducted through awards up for grabs.

FQ showcased an award ceremony towards multiple facets of football throughout the state.

A nice incentive dedicated to the recognition and appraisal of the hard work undertaken by different areas of football.

The Female Football Week club of the year was awarded to Central Football Club following their extraordinary contribution to female football within Queensland.

Displayed throughout the clubs commitment to female football, the club are fully dedicated to the advancement of women’s football.

Harvesting a fostering environment throughout the club, alongside the nourishment of young promising female footballers has been symbolised by FQ.

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