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Football must stand against Iran’s discrimination and abuse of women

FIFA

9/11 will live forever as an historic date. It now has further significance and a similar level of regret attached to it, following the death of a female football fan in Iran.

It is the date FIFA announced that a delegation would be sent to the Iranian capital to meet with local officials. They would oversee the processes behind Iran’s decision to allow women to attend the World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia in October.

The decision is not to be confused with any progressive thinking that may finally have seen the West Asian nation join the majority of the world in the present. The permission granted to women to attend the qualifier is nothing more than a clear reaction to international sentiment and pressure after the tragic events of September 2nd and the death of Iranian woman Sahar Khodayari.

Vast sums of money and significant time will be wasted on what is unfortunately a necessary visit to one of the AFC’s most notable and successful members; to effectively deal with what is a most fundamental human rights violation.

The delegation will arrive shortly and carries with it the message of the united football world. One protesting Iran’s consistent refusal to admit half its population into its stadiums to enjoy the beautiful game.

According to Iranian authorities, 29-year-old Khodayari was a criminal. Her crime was a desire to watch football. As such, she broke the law, disguised herself as a male as best she could and attempted to gain admittance to Tehran’s Azadi Stadium in March.

Her hope was to watch Esteghlal, a club with a predominately blue strip; her club. Wearing a blue wig and a long trench coat, Khodayari bravely attempted to blend in with thousands of men outside the stadium, desperate to be discreet and innocuous.

Sadly, her bid to defy what has been a mandated ban on female attendance at football matches for over 40 years failed. She was arrested and detained.

There is no doubt that the incident would have drawn little or no attention around the globe had it not been for what followed. Most likely just a court appearance and a dishing out of what the local authorities saw as an appropriate punishment for a woman wanting to watch a game of football.

Khodayari was informed in the lead up to her court date that the likely punishment was to be six months in prison. Comprehending the sheer idiocy of such a punishment is difficult for those living in free and open societies around the globe.

Through either fear, terror or protest, Sahar Khodayari set herself alight on the courthouse steps outside the building where she was to receive her punishment. She died days later, was buried somewhere around the 6th or 7th of September before authorities announced her death on the 9th.

Tributes flooded in for the woman who would become known as the ‘Blue Girl’ and Iranian citizens held a candlelit vigil on September 12 in memory of the football fan.

Amnesty International labelled the events as displaying Iran’s “appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country.”

It is a contempt that appears finally under pressure, yet one that required an innocent women’s courage and sacrifice to bring the full extent of the horrific truths of Iranian injustice and discrimination to the surface.

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s 2006 documentary Offside raised awareness of the issue and captured the story of a group of women detained whilst attempting to enter a qualifying match. Sadly, it appears political and social will has only now arrived.

No doubt, Iranian authorities will allow some women into the match against Cambodia, hoping that external pressure will be quelled and any serious repercussions from Khodayari’s death avoided.

Australia’s newly formed body Women in Football has asked FFA Chairman Chris Nikou to make a compelling statement; calling for a boycott of Iranian football should FIFA take little or no action before its October deadline.

As of yet, Australian football has not indicated that it would be prepared to take such a step, despite others calling for change.

Jesper Moller, president of the Danish Football Association called for sanctions against Iran should it continue to ban women from matches. He said, “The rules are clear. Discrimination cannot be tolerated.”

Despite Moller’s comments holding a fundamental human and political truth, a clear shift in Iran’s policies will require consistent international pressure and a firm hand.

Considering their utter disregard for the human dignity of women, an altered view around who and who cannot attend football matches will not be formed lightly.

It is up to all of us to remember Sahar Khodayari and demand change.

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What will a National Second Tier mean for the NPL?

As the concept of a National Second Tier becomes a reality in Australia, there are questions on what the removal of the biggest clubs will mean for the State League competitions.

Football Australia are still discussing and workshopping the format of the concept, and how it operates and coexists with the National Premier Leagues (NPL) is one of the biggest questions.

When the NPL was created in 2013, the aim was to standardise the State League competitions across Australia and serve as a second tier to the A-League. The competition has been the top division in each state outside the A-League, with the winners playing off against each other at the end of the season.

The NPL hasn’t managed to bridge the gap between the State League clubs and the A-League, shown by the push for a true National Second Tier.

We know that the current NPL clubs would jump at the chance to join a National Second Tier, however, what would this mean for the State Leagues moving forward?

There is certainly commercial value to having South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights play off in the Victorian State League. Without the traditional powerhouse clubs in there, the Victorian NPL would struggle to attract sponsors and fans that drive the clubs, allowing them to perform at a semi-professional level.

Determining what the value of the NPL is without traditional clubs is a question that will be asked across every state competition if a National Second Tier drags them away.

Football Australia has previously floated a Champions League-style competition idea, with 32 teams competing in a group stage format followed by a knockout stage.

The allure of this concept is to reduce the cost of travel and the financial burden on the clubs at the league’s inception while allowing the clubs to continue to play in their respective state NPL competitions.

However, this is a stop-gap solution to get the competition off the ground, with the intention of easing into the transition from semi-professional into a fully professional second tier with promotion and relegation down the track.

There are certainly positives to this structure. Using the Champions League-style format to get the competition off the ground and running before evolving into a traditional league format could be the best way for a National Second Tier to launch.

The reality is that the first few years in a National Second Tier will be difficult for the clubs if the competition is a complete home and away league featuring at least 18 games. It is a distinct possibility clubs will fold, or flee back to the relative safety of their state competitions.

This isn’t a reason not to proceed with the competition, however, it is a danger that the clubs must recognise. To alleviate this danger, clubs can play in their state competitions while featuring in a parallel Champions League-style competition.

Some of the NPL’s biggest clubs would prefer a traditional style home and away season. South Melbourne President Nick Maikousis outlined in an interview with Soccerscene that a National Second Tier could mean some of the biggest clubs depart the State Leagues.

“We don’t agree that a Champions League-style competition is a National Second Division. Our views are that it needs to be a stand-alone competition. The challenge for the state federations is potentially losing some of their biggest member clubs,” Maikousis said.

“If you take South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, and Heidelberg out of the NPL Victoria competition, it becomes a different conversation.”

He also pointed out that reluctance to lose these clubs from their respective state leagues by some stakeholders is similar to arguments raised against the formation of the National Soccer League in the 1970s.

Fears of losing the State League’s biggest clubs aren’t new. At the NSL’s inception in 1977, the Victorian Premier League forbid its clubs from joining the new competition. Mooroolbark SC, an unremarkable Eastern Suburbs club, broke the deadlock, paving the way for South Melbourne, Heidelberg and Footscray just to follow in their footsteps.

Mooroolbark unfortunately found themselves relegated out of the NSL in their only year in the competition, before ending up in the provisional league at the bottom of the football pyramid by the 1980s.

Eventually, any national second tier competition must become a stand-alone league if Australian football is to have a proper pyramid of competitions featuring promotion and relegation. The state NPL competitions will lose their biggest clubs to this, but it creates opportunities for other clubs to forge ahead and take their place.

Australian football needs to be brave in its attempt to create something that will outlast us all. Countries like England, Spain, and Italy have built their football not only on heritage, but also a deep talent pool developed playing in the leagues below their top division.

Promotion and relegation must be the end game for football if it’s to reach its full potential in Australia. For a club to climb from State League 5 to the A-League, from amateur to professional, is the ultimate expression of the beautiful game.

The state leagues will survive losing their biggest clubs, like they did at the NSL’s inception. The question is what value these competitions still have without their biggest assets.

Football Australia and Commonwealth Bank begin partnership to grow women’s football

FA CBA

Football Australia have today announced the start of a game-changing partnership with Commonwealth Bank.

Originally announced in April this year, today’s newly formed partnership will see Commonwealth Bank become one of the largest investors in Australian women’s football.

Millions of dollars are set to be injected into the elite women’s game and grassroots initiatives across the country over the next four years.

The bank will become the official partner and bank of the Commonwealth Bank Matildas, Commonwealth Bank Young Matildas, Commonwealth Bank Junior Matildas, Socceroos and more.

In addition, the partnership supports Football Australia’s 15-year vision and strategic agenda to increase women’s and girls’ participation in the sport that was pledged in the Legacy ’23 plan.

Monique Macleod, Commonwealth Bank Group Executive of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, acknowledged the significance of such a landmark moment for CBA and Australian football.

“This is an exciting time for women’s football; the Matildas recent performance on the world stage is showing young Australian women and girls they can achieve great things. We are ready to play our part in strengthening the game at all levels as we head towards 2023 and beyond,” she said.

“We are delighted to partner with Football Australia in supporting the Commonwealth Bank Matildas in their quest for glory on the world stage, and the future growth and development of the game across all levels.”

Football Australia Chief Executive Officer James Johnson added: “Our partnership with Commonwealth Bank represents a clear and strong alignment of values between our two organisations. It is also a significant endorsement of our vision for Australian football and our strategic priority to anchor the growth of the game in women’s football.

“We are already seeing Commonwealth Bank’s commitment to helping Football Australia provide opportunities for all Australians to play football, and to further strengthen the Commonwealth Bank Matildas’ position as an iconic brand, by helping us to reach more Australians than ever before.

“In recent weeks we’ve seen the Commonwealth Bank Matildas set the record for the largest audience for a women’s team sport in Australian TV history, with an average television audience of 1.87 million tuning in to watch Australia and Sweden in Tokyo. This is a sign of how this team is capturing the hearts and minds of Australians everywhere and with Commonwealth Bank’s support, we believe this team will continue to grow and reach new heights over the coming years.

“Commonwealth Bank’s support for the Socceroos also comes at a time when the team has reached its highest FIFA ranking since 2011, and readies itself for the next phase of the Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar with upcoming matches against China and Vietnam in the September Men’s International Match Calendar window.”

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