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Robert Cavallucci: “We are no longer going to accept playing second fiddle to other sports”

With the COVID-19 restrictions easing in Queensland, CEO of Football Queensland Robert Cavallucci is travelling the state to conduct club summits as part of the Future of Football 2020+ consultation process.

The strategy aims to provide a voice for people involved within the football industry. Administrators, coaches, players, and other stakeholders are being encouraged to constructively participate in high-level discussions and provide recommendations.

After conducting several summits and scheduling many more, Cavallucci spoke exclusively with Soccerscene to share his insights into the current state of investment, infrastructure, and regional football in Queensland and also to discuss some of the challenges ahead.

“We are conducting an extensive state-wide consultation process and the main purpose of it is to listen. It is about asking football stakeholders their vision of the game and ultimately, we will bring it all together in a report where we will outline opportunities across four key areas of focus. Governance, administration, competition reform, and affordability,” Cavallucci says.

One of the major goals for Football Queensland moving forward will be to amplify the level of investment that the State and Federal governments provide. With participation rates steadily increasing, Cavallucci fears the current level of infrastructure will struggle to meet the growing demand caused by more players and more staff.

“The level of infrastructure and financial support is mixed. Some areas have fantastic facilities and others have suffered from years of underinvestment,” he says.

“Underinvestment has been a systemic problem for Australian football. In the past our sport has failed to work with governments in a meaningful way. In Australia and in Queensland, we have failed to demonstrate our value and our contribution to the community. We have failed to stand up for ourselves and we have failed to make the case as to why our sport deserves significantly better investments from the government.”

“We now can demonstrate with data that we are clearly the biggest game, particularly for girls and women. We have the Women’s World Cup on the way and it is absolutely our responsibility to make the case as to why they need to support our game. There is an imbalance of investment and our infrastructure can simply not accommodate the growth, let alone the nature of the game which is changing and becoming far more inclusive and accessible than ever before.”

Although there is a need for more financial backing, recent years have seen a positive trend in the amount of wages Football Queensland have been able to allocate to staff working within the industry.

Data provided by Cavallucci reveals that for men’s football, the annual budget allotted to coaches and other staff in the state was $178,000 in 2017. This rose to $316,000 in 2018 and to more than $551,000 in 2019.

For the women’s side of the game there has also been a substantial increase of funding to meet the demand driven by participation rates. In 2018 $65,000 was being invested into staff wages, a figure which rose to more than $200,000 in 2019 and is set to increase further.

Football has long overtaken the traditional powers of Rugby League and Rugby Union as the most popular organised sport in Queensland and the successful Women’s World Cup bid will certainly add to the world game’s momentum. Football Queensland is optimistic of seizing the opportunities that are presenting themselves by implementing a level of planning and professionalism that has not previously existed.

“For the first time we have created a state-wide infrastructure plan which clearly outlines our motives for the next four years, how we plan to deliver these motives, and how we will work with the government to achieve them. It’s the first time all these types of things are being done and documented,” Cavallucci says.

“Football is the biggest and greatest sport; we are no longer going to accept playing second fiddle to other sports.”

While Football Queensland is working towards high-level reform, the current summits are also focusing heavily on regional and grass-roots football.

One of the major challenges top level administrators currently face in Queensland is the sheer vastness of the state. Townships and regions are often separated by hours of travel so providing equality in terms of competition, infrastructure and development pathways has always been difficult.

“We’re absolutely keen to develop regional football further, but Queensland is a very big state. The tyranny of distance presents immense challenges to ensure we have the opportunity for all participants to have access to the same services, pathways, facilities, opportunities for coaches, and referees. It presents enormous challenges,” Cavallucci says.

“That being said, regional football in Queensland is in a fantastic place. We have great local competitions and there has been some major growth in participation figures for across both genders.”

Cavallucci adds that a theme of the feedback, particularly from those in northern Queensland has been around restructuring the competitive zones. The state is currently split into 10 geographical zones which although designed with the best intentions may be holding clubs back.

“From our perspective, there needs to be a willingness to be open to new ideas. Many of the clubs want broader regions because they feel constrained within their geographical boundaries. The feedback around that has been really strong as the boundaries may limit what some of the more aspirational clubs are wanting to do,” he says.

The Future of Football 2020+ consultation process is expected to include more than 186,000 participants, 317 clubs, and 12 stakeholder groups. For more information or to register for a focus group, visit footballqueensland.com.au/future-of-football.

Queensland features an abundance of Matildas

New figures show that Queensland's female development has been incredibly successful in finding new talent, who have represented the Westfield Matildas.

New figures show that Queensland’s female development has been incredibly successful in finding talent, who have represented the Westfield Matildas.

As part of Football Queensland’s latest findings, 40 homegrown players have gone on to represent the Australian Women’s National Team at major senior and youth tournaments since July 2012.

Katrina Gorry, Mackenzie Arnold and Hayley Raso (pictured) are a few examples of local talents working their way up the ranks during the last eight years and will be key contributors in the next Women’s World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2023.

Gorry, Arnold and Raso spent time at the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) before accomplishing themselves in the Westfield W-League and internationally.

Football Queensland and the QAS combined to launch a full-time training and playing program for upcoming talents in 2018.

“Our pathway is now the envy of every female footballer in the country,” Rae Dower said, a former Matilda and current Junior Matildas Head Coach.

“We’re fully committed to evolving the program and to helping as many female players in Queensland reach their full potential on and off the field through the creation of our high-performance environment.

“We’d love to help make dreams come true for Queensland players wanting to play for the Matildas in a home FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 and beyond.”

Football Federation Australia revealed more than 18,000 women and girls from Queensland played football in 2019, as part of the latest census findings – a three per cent increase on 2018.

“The numbers we have are very encouraging and we look forward to seeing Queensland produce many more Westfield Matildas,” FQ Technical Director Gabor Ganczer said.

“Having the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil will be a big moment and objective for aspirational players and we are putting a lot of resources into helping them achieve their goals, not just now but permanently.”

Football Queensland provided every local player who has represented Australia at Olympic Games, World Cups or Continental Championships since the beginning of July in 2012:

Laura Alleway, Mackenzie Arnold, Mia Bailey, Angela Beard, Georgia Beaumont, Savannah Boller, Eliza Campbell, Kim Carroll, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Larissa Crummer, Isobel Dalton, Casey Dumont, Charlotte Farmer, Ciara Fowler, Mary Fowler, Sunny Franco, Shekinah Friske, Emily Gielnik, Brooke Goodrich, Katrina Gorry, Winonah Heatley, Elise Kellond-Knight, India Kubin, Aivi Luik, Afrikah McGladrigan, Teagan Micah, Ayesha Norrie (Kirby), Hollie Palmer, Clare Polkinghorne, Kezia Pritchard, Hayley Raso, Jamilla Rankin, Taylor Ray, Indiah-Paige Riley, Arina Tokunaga, Kaitlyn Torpey, Cortnee Vine, Natasha Wheeler, Brittany Whitfield, Tameka Yallop (Butt).

Junior football makes its return in Devonport

Football Queensland

After a delayed start due to the COVID-19 crisis, the 2020 Devonport Junior Soccer Association season began this past weekend.

Close to 700 juniors between the age of four and twelve were back on the football field in the city of Devonport.

Football Tasmania CEO Matt Bulkeley was excited to see the children return to play the state’s favourite team sport.

“COVID-19’s impact was felt particularly hard on the north-west coast, creating a lot of uncertainty about whether the season could kick-off,” Mr Bulkeley said.

“To see children back out on the pitch again, having fun and being active is a great reward for whole community after a tough few months.

“With junior matches also starting across Burnie in the Western School Soccer Association earlier this month and the Northern Championship, WSL and NPL seasons underway, the football family on the north-west coast has finally returned to doing what they like best on the weekend – enjoying our great game.

“The 2020 season wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of all the volunteers, clubs and associations who have put in so many hours to make the return to football safe.

“On behalf of the entire Tasmanian football family I wholeheartedly thank everyone involved in rebooting football so players and families can again enjoy the vast array of health and social benefits playing the sport provides.

“I’d also like to thank our 2020 junior competition partners MyState Bank and Southern Cross Austero for their roles in helping get junior players back on the pitch safely and in time to fit in a meaningful season.”

DJSA President Richard Bidwell claimed there was a huge sense of relief to finally begin the football season.

“While this season may be shorter than usual, it’s been a lot busier behind the scenes, dealing with both the COVID delay and the building works at Meercroft Park.

“I’d like to thank everyone involved – from the DJSA staff and volunteers, to the schools and the Devonport City Council – for understanding the circumstances and making it possible for our kids to play.

“After being all set to go in March and then facing the unknown of how many players we’d have for 2020 if we could get a season in, it’s wonderful that football is finally back at Meercroft.”

Do the Matildas need a female coach?

With the recent decision by former Matildas coach Ante Milicic to move into the head coaching role at A-League club Macarthur Bulls, the national team is now in need of a new mentor.

The 46-year-old Milicic did a commendable job with a group of women fast becoming Australia’s national team of choice. The 2019 World Cup in France did not quite bring the football glory for which the nation had hoped, with the women entering the event as a top ten ranked team, seemingly destined to navigate the group stage and compete in the knockout phase.

A Round of 16 loss to Norway torpedoed the Matildas from the competition when the dreaded penalty shootout denied them an opportunity to advance. Since, Milicic has continued in his role and after two warm up friendlies against Chile, led the team in a successful Olympic Qualifying campaign.

In truth, he had done little wrong and had he chosen to stay in the job, the likelihood is that he would have been afforded that opportunity. However, it appears the Sydney born ex-Socceroo had his eyes fixed on the top job in Sydney’s southwest and the chance to test his skills in the A-League.

That decision has opened up discussion around who his successor should be. Rumours circle that former USWNT coach Jill Ellis is high on the FFA hit list, others claim the popular Ross Aloisi is the clear favourite, whilst some believe Ante Juric or Arsenal coach Joe Montemurro would be ideal.

In recent weeks, it has been noted that Ellis appears to be a front runner for the position yet the only woman on the short list.

Internationally proven names such as Sarina Weigman and Carolina Morace have been thrown forward as female candidates for a position that many feel should be filled by a woman. There is a firm belief that the time is nigh and that the potential symbolism of such a move would be a powerful statement.

Personally, I would like to seek the best person selected for the attractive task of taking the Matildas to the Tokyo Olympics and forwards toward the 2023 Women’s World Cup on home shores, whichever sex they may be.

Getting the right professional fit will be vital for a team competing in the most speedily advancing women’s code on the planet, with the quality and depth seemingly improving at an exponential rate. Appointing a new coach for any reason other than them being the best suited to the role and a with proven record of being able to extract the absolute best from the players at his or her’s disposal would be folly.

Whilst I believe that the above is indeed a measured and logical argument, there is also a line of thinking that sees significant women in the Australian game determined to ensure that the role is indeed filled by a female; a view that is reportedly at odds with the sentiments of many players within the Matildas squad.

The last time a Matildas team was coached by a woman, things ended in disaster; perhaps informing the current players’ preference not to demand a female appointment and their contentment with the men who have led them in recent years, Milicic and former coach Alen Stajcic.

Certainly there is no suggestion that the appointment of a female coach would result in the same outcomes as 2014, however some players appear fearful of a ‘token’ female appointment; one based on a belief that a woman’s team should have a woman coach and not only on the quality of the candidate.

Personally, I would love to see the Matildas led by a woman, in the same way I would like to see the Socceroos led by a woman should she be the best person for the job.

Former Matilda Shelley Youman has been a strong advocate for a female coach of the national squad. In an interview with Australian website Women in Football contributor Janakan Seemampillai, Youman suggested the modern group of Matilda’s should “grow up” and accept the idea of a female coach.

She doubled down by stating that the importance of appointing a woman to the role was so paramount at this stage of the women’s game in Australia that “If we can’t find a woman, look harder.”

Many would bemoan such an appointment as one designed to suit an emotional and utopian aspiration for the Matildas. The alternative view presented by women previously or currently involved in the domestic game, would instead cite the lack of belief in and failure to identify and develop female coaches in the past.

Those holding that view believe in investing in a highly credentialed woman for the role now, rather than potentially recirculating another male from within the FFA system.

As the Matildas embark on a busy three years of important football, the appointment could well make or break their chances. Firstly, of a successful Olympic campaign and also the development of a squad capable of seriously competing for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The powers at be will need to determine;

a) Whether it is indeed time for a woman to take the reins of the Matildas.

b) The identity of the woman capable of doing so.

Should the answer to a) be no and/or the right candidate not found, the coach will, once again, most likely be male. That decision would infuriate the proud female pioneers of Australia’s football past, yet also be one with which the Matildas appear to have little problem.

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