Debate on the future of the game is essential to become a football nation

In regards to the conversation around Australian football right now, everything is on the table.

Despite the current times we are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s refreshing to hear constructive debate around the future of the game.

Football is a game of opinions, after all. Everyone throws in their two cents, even more so when there are no domestic games to watch or participate in, at a grassroots or professional level.

The range of voices we have heard from in recent weeks, including former Socceroos and Matildas, current administrators, as well as past and present coaches, has given the footballing public a sense of belief that the game will finally focus on football first.

The in-depth discussions and dissections of what a Josip Skoko believes is best for the game, or what a Peter Filopoulos thinks, in such a transparent manner, is something we need more of to be a healthy football nation.

Most of these figures have spoken openly on what they think the new FFA CEO James Johnson must attempt to address, ranging from topics such as player development, junior fees, promotion and relegation and governance structures.

The overall consensus? Despite the last couple of years of largely negative press, if we address the long-standing issues of the game, it will have a positive future.

One of those issues is the disregard that was shown to NSL clubs when the A-League was established, despite all the positives they continued to contribute to the game, including youth development, traditional football culture and much more.

Former Socceroo Gary Cole told this publication recently that he felt “the history of Australian football, for a long time, kicked off in 2004.”

It resonated with me a while after. How could you not agree with Cole, in this case?

I was quite young when the NSL folded; most of my life, all I have known is the A-League.

‘Old soccer’ as Cole called it, was barely referred to and when it was, it had a negative or embarrassing connotation attached to it, during the opening years of the A-League and arguably still does now.

Why was this the case? It’s inexcusable. You can’t tell me now that the game has properly recognised our previous national competition or the clubs involved and the heroes of that era.

Younger generations can’t celebrate legends like Cole who paved the way for the likes of the Tim Cahills and Harry Kewells of the world, if they are not told who they were, who they played for and what they achieved.

Clubs like Cole’s Heidelberg United are central to one of the other pressing debates discussed by those in the game, a national second division.

Ex-Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer put forward his plan during a ‘State of Football’ chat with Optus Sport on Sunday, in which he outlined a region-based conference system for a national second division setup.

“It minimises travel costs, but creates a second tier, semi-professional, with a view in the future to lift it up,” he said.

“In Germany for example, the third division is regional. The top two teams, depending on the region, (size of) participation, go into a play-off for eventual promotion.

“Why can’t we create a similar structure?”

Will everyone agree with Schwarzer’s idea for the second division? Absolutely not.

But that’s beside the point. The more these matters are spoken about and debated, the urgency increases for administrators to take all views into account and move forward with plans to implement.

There are those who think some former Socceroos, without any administrative experience, are not best placed to make calls on the future of complex governance decisions within the Australian football system.

That’s a fair enough criticism, but that doesn’t mean their involvement in the discussion of the game’s future, through different online platforms and now FFA’s Starting XI panel, hasn’t already been effective and will continue to be so.

Their influential voices form part of the narrative from all corners of the game who now support a national second division, with a point being reached where no other option will be accepted.

Call me an optimist, despite the game’s governance track record over its history, with James Johnson at the helm, football can finally be its unique self and stand on its own two feet.

There is renewed confidence that decisions will be made in the best interests of the sport, not simply trying to replicate what rival codes do.

In the end however, while discussion and debate around the game’s future is important, it’s the actions that count.

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.

Football Australia and Nike invest for new decade

Football Australia and Nike partnership extension 2023

Football Australia and Nike have confirmed a 10-year contract extension that will carry their partnership forward into a third decade.

This deal is already the longest of Nike’s federation club partnerships in Australia, with the well-known brand a staple of Football Australia’s desire for male and female football support at all levels of the game.

Football Australia’s elite national teams, grassroots participation, inclusivity programs, and its Legacy ’23 strategy will also continue to be strengthened.

Nike’s investment will contribute towards Football Australia’s Legacy ’23 initiative – harnessing the growth of women’s football to deliver enduring benefits for Australia’s largest community sport beyond 2023, including becoming the first community sport to reach gender parity in participation.

“This is a pivotal moment for Australian football. This extended partnership with Nike not only solidifies their commitment to our national teams, but it also provides significant resources for the growth of grassroots football, our ambitious Legacy ’23 plan and the strategic building of our national iconic brands,” Football Australia CEO James Johnson stated via media release.

“Our partnership with Nike has been transformative, and this extension represents a strong endorsement for Football Australia and the growth of football at all levels across the nation.

“We are proud to be part of Nike’s Global Football strategy, and this partnership extension signifies the strength and continued elevation of Australian football on the international stage.”

Nike also remains as the official apparel partner for all Australian national teams, including the Subway Socceroos, CommBank Matildas, Junior, and Youth men’s and women’s squads, as well as the CommBank Pararoos, and CommBank ParaMatildas.

“In the past two decades we’ve seen football in Australia grow to incredible heights and this year achieve sold out stadiums and record-breaking jersey sales,” Nike Pacific Vice President and General Manager, Ashley Reade, added in a statement:

“Nike is incredibly proud of the partnership with Football Australia to drive these outcomes.

“This year’s major tournament was a generational tipping point and, on every level, Nike continues to find ways to innovate, inspire and enable the future of athletes through football.

“This announcement represents our local commitment to the world game, to foster even stronger opportunities for gender equity from grassroots to the elite game. We believe in the vision of Football Australia and look forward to playing our part in the sport’s continued growth.”

Steph Catley is hugely involved with both organisations, not only as Nike athlete but as vice-captain of the Matildas.

Not only does Nike’s innovative high-performance gear allow us to perform our best on the field, but their unwavering commitment to build the game, invest in us as athletes and broaden access for the next generation of players and fans plays a pivotal role in driving the sport forward,” she added via media release.

“We are thrilled to continue working with them and look forward to the exciting journey ahead.”

Football Australia and Nike will unite everyone at grassroots, before the heights of a global stage.

National Women’s Soccer League score big with record-breaking domestic TV rights deal

NWSL TV rights deal

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) have secured a four-year, $240 million USD ($324 million AUD) domestic broadcast deal with four major streaming and cable partners.

Starting in 2024, CBS, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps Sports will nationally broadcast 118 NWSL games, and this deal also becomes the most expensive TV deal in women’s sports history which sends a strong message about its huge presence in the worlds game.

The NWSL broke several league records in this past season that completed, with record highs in membership sales, average attendance, ticket sales and single game attendance.

The NWSL has no doubt been the league to set a standard for professionalism in women’s football and no doubt the success of the US Women’s National team propelled that push to a competitive environment where the best players and coaches feature.

The financial stability of the NWSL has set an example for other women’s leagues globally, encouraging corporate investment in women’s football. The influx of financial support through sponsorships allows for the world class facilities and increased player salaries, both topics that were previously issues within the space.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman mentioned that this deal signifies the league’s insane growth since its inception back in 2013.

“This moment is a celebration, a celebration of how far we’ve come and far we’re headed,” Berman said via press conference in San Diego last week.

“These partnerships fundamentally change the game for our league and the players who take the pitch each week. The investment into facilities and grassroots will be vital for the foundation we aim to build.

“We have taken great care to ensure our games are discoverable by increasing our reach in order to expose new audiences to everything that makes our league special, without compromising the economic value of our product. This is the beginning of our future.”

In a similar fashion, the A-League Women’s competition saw their record memberships tally for multiple teams smashed and round one attendances were fantastic compared to recent years. There were many positives from the Women’s World Cup that attributed to this rise however a little concern is the talent pool compared to other top leagues.

It has become an issue in the A-League Men’s competition and although the Matilda’s are a skilled, popular national team, it is increasingly rare to see talent be homegrown as most top young Australian players are pipped by US or European clubs to develop their skills.

The news of this NWSL record TV rights deal, and the compounding positives news in the Women’s football space over the last 12 months shows that there is a strong foundation that will inspire young girls to participate and support the sport.

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