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Australian football has been historically divided, the moment of change is here

NSL

One of the fundamental and historical challenges faced by Australian football has been connectivity.

From as far back as 1880 when Wanderers, the first official Australian football club was birthed in Sydney, the game has struggled to form a unified face.

For near on 100 years, just like Australia’s more traditionally favoured pastimes of cricket, AFL and rugby league, the game existed as a predominately amateur endeavour. As that changed football lacked a cohesive and overarching structure that allowed the game to flourish in the way we still hope it can.

At the core of that division was race, culture and ethnicity. It would be nice to think that we have moved beyond that scenario in the 21st Century, yet the game still struggles to see itself as an all-encompassing beast, as opposed to a collection of individual components.

With post World War II immigration providing the driving force, the beautiful game exploded in Australia during the 1950’s and 60’s. Clubs built around the idea of community support networks became the norm and by the mid 70’s, the demand for a more formalised, organised and national competition had well and truly been born.

The Italian, Maltese, Greek, Yugoslav, Arabic and English communities longed for football to become a more significant part of their lives; just as it had been in their homelands.

That longing and demand was met casually on Saturday afternoons in amateur play before it finally began to take shape as a semi-professional league in the late 1970’s.

Founded in 1977, the National Soccer League gave voice and presence to the world game on Australian shores and as a five-year-old boy at the time, still remains something of a hazy and distant memory.

With a myriad of political issues existing between many of the clubs, some ethnic hostility and clear inter club tensions, division became the norm. So much so that as a little and pasty white Anglo-Saxon kid I was banned from attending NSL matches in the 1980’s.

My father felt I might get hurt and preferred to watch highlight packages of English football than risk life and limb at an NSL match. How wrong he was about so many things, including football.

We should all probably excuse him considering the negative media coverage the game received at the time; racist and inflammatory, the images and copy gave the game little chance to thrive.

Such coverage kept the game well and truly divided from the potential main stream interest of a keen and enthusiastic Australian sporting public. For nearly 30 years, football battled through re-incarnation after re-incarnation; desperately seeking acceptance that was not forthcoming thanks to internal division and external bias.

By the late 1990’s the game was hamstrung. Despite phenomenal growth in junior participation rates, division had led to stagnation. At the eleventh hour, the A-League was born. It was an attempt to bridge the divides, yet one that appears to have had little impact in drawing football together as one and may in fact have widened the chasm between the past and present.

There is no doubt that culture and community can indeed interact with professionalism, modernity and corporate football in Australia. However, the A-League has not proven to be the answer. Finding that answer is key.

Now, after 15 years of A-league play and a strengthening NPL competition that continues to highlight the lessening gap between the two, football may finally be on the cusp of morphing into one entity.

With the FFA Cup showcasing traditional and community based clubs and a newly independent A-league, the domestic game stands at the dawning of a new financial and collaborative football age.

If Perth Glory owner Tony Sage is correct and there is indeed an extra A$80 million to allocate towards the advancement of Australian football, one of the keys will be corporate connectivity. Moreover, a broad vision, driven by people with not just knowledge of football but knowledge of football in Australia and all its foibles, is paramount.

The game stands at a crucial juncture where vision and reality must combine in order to fund and develop the game at all levels. The women’s game requires investment, as do the immensely talented youth leagues from where our next generation will emerge.

Building clear connections between the traditional history of the NPL, women’s football and the now independent top tier is paramount.

The visionary decisions that need to be made require clear, corporate and unbiased minds; capable of picturing the long term future of the game, perhaps at the cost of some short term disappointment.

For decades, the game has been divided, a hodgepodge if you will. The moment has now arrived, where an independent top tier can take the lead and drive change. Change towards true promotion/relegation across the country, a transfer fee system that reflects the realities of world football and a connection to the women’s game that acknowledges the changing face of the sport.

If done well, the corporate interest in the game would increase, with the financial sector excited by a truly united and inter-connected game with immense promise and potential.

Both spiritual and financial connectivity are required. Let’s hope football has the vision to put the right people in place to achieve such a goal.

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Football Victoria cancels competitions in Melbourne for 2021

The City of Greater Geelong has engaged with Football Victoria to further plans for a regional soccer centre.

Football Victoria (FV) have announced the cancellation of all metropolitan Melbourne competitions for the remainder of the 2021 season.

In a letter to the football community, FV CEO Kimon Taliadoros and FV President Antonella Care explained that the decision was made in the best interests of those who make the game what it is in Victoria.

“FV’s vision is to provide Football For All, Anywhere, Anytime, and alongside the valuable feedback of our stakeholders, this has continued to shape our decision making process. Importantly though, the safety of our community sits above all else, as our most important consideration for all football decisions throughout the pandemic.

“Our NPL and Competitions teams have worked day and night to produce an extraordinary body of work, planning multiple scenarios for every competition. This work is detailed, well-considered and milestone driven.

“We would like to express our gratitude to our football community, who have engaged in roundtable discussions, completed surveys and provided direct feedback to the team, all of which has been absolutely essential for us to best align with the needs of our community.

“Many of the planned scenarios have been eliminated in recent weeks, due to the key dates passing with extended lockdowns across the state.

“Unfortunately, the most recent Government announcement means our options to complete the 2021 season for our metropolitan Melbourne competitions have now reached an end.”

“We know this news is disappointing, particularly following last year’s abandoned season.

“Winter sport has borne the brunt of lockdowns and in turn, the impact on our football community has been immense. Our Clubs, Associations, Officials, Administrators, Volunteers and Players have bravely weathered the storm, rallying through each round of restrictions, showing a resilience that I know will keep our community strong through yet another challenge.”

As a result of the cancelled competitions in Melbourne, there will be no outcomes in regards to promotion and relegation between divisions. No premiers or champions will be crowned as well, as a result.

FV are still optimistic of a return to football for participants in Regional Victoria, subject to the easing of government restrictions and the governing body’s outlined conditions.

The organisation will also engage with clubs involved in the NIKE F.C. Cup and Dockerty Cup finals, to determine whether these games are able to be completed by the end of the year.

More information in regards to FV’s Fee Refund Policy will be sent out to the community by Friday, 17 September.

For further developments and to access other resources visit: https://www.footballvictoria.com.au/

Bundesliga looks to become the first sustainable league in the world – will Australia follow?

The German Football League (DFL), the body which governs the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, recently outlined their ambitions to become the world’s first carbon neutral domestic football leagues.

On August 19, the DFL announced that clubs would take a vote in December of this year on whether to include environmental sustainability as a part of its licensing requirements.

Environmental sustainability has been placed at the forefront of the DFL’s objectives over the past six months, through their Taskforce for the Future of Professional Football.

The taskforce, which is made up of 36 business, sport and political experts also looks to focus their energy on other topics such as financial stability, communication with fans and supporting the growth of the professional women’s game.

“This is only the first step of a marathon,” Christian Pfennig, member of the DFL management board, explained to Forbes.

“Our goal is to anchor sustainability oriented to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as another key factor in our licensing program by 2022/23. Then the following year, we want to introduce incentives, but also sanctions should a club fail to meet the minimum criteria.”

The criteria itself will be finalised with external experts in the coming weeks and months.

Multiple German clubs have been extremely well received for their commitment to sustainability over the years.

Wolfsburg, who are currently first in the Bundesliga this season, were ranked the most environmentally sustainable club earlier this year in a report conducted by Sport Positive.

The report highlighted Wolfsburg’s dedication to using 100 per cent green energy across the club by using bioplastic cups and for ensuring zero landfill waste, whilst offering vegan options at their stadium on game-day. The club’s website also contains a corporate responsibility page with information about climate protection and environmental initiatives, as they plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Freiburg have used solar energy at their Schwarzwald-Stadion since 1993, with their new stadium to follow suit when it opens in October. The new facility will also have green energy storage and plug-in charging stations.

In 2010, Mainz became the Bundesliga’s and one of the world’s first carbon neutral football clubs.

These promising examples and many others have generally been taken individually , but the DFL now wants to centralise its approach to sustainability.

“The most important step now is to create a framework for the different clubs that are part of the DFL, from a Champions League participant to teams promoted from the third division,” Pfennig said.

It’s a significant task, but the DFL believe they have to play a role in pursuing the best practices in tackling social issues, but they keep a realistic head in their objectives.

“There is no ideal world or ideal football, Pfennig said.

“We are aware that we will have to adjust our goals, also taking into account the background of an enormous change in all areas of life. That’s why we need a framework and always work in improving our goals.”

The centralised method has been successful for the implementation of other initiatives such as Supporter Liaison Officer’s (SLOs) and improvement of youth academies.

These works, which are part of the DFL’s licensing framework, have been copied by other countries around the world and Australia should be keeping a keen eye on them.

While looking to Germany may be a good guide for improving fan to club relations and youth academy developments, they should especially look to follow their upcoming sustainability guidelines.

Australian clubs should be further focusing on improving their efforts towards sustainability, in a country which generally fails to meet any of those types of objectives.

It may be a difficult initial transition but clubs will eventually benefit from this push in the years to come.

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