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Is FFA’s determination to continue with A-League football amidst coronavirus concerns brave or foolish?

The new man at the helm of FFA must be a risk taker, even whilst facing the scary realities of coronavirus.

Monday morning’s announcement that Australian football would proceed in spite of the pandemic seemed somewhat out of step with most current thinking. It also did not align with many of the decisions being made by other sporting organisations, both in Australia and internationally.

James Johnson held a professional and concise press conference to inform the nation of the decision to allow football across the country to continue in the immediate future, with an assurance that the fluid situation would be re-evaluated on a constant basis as the evolving coronavirus story unfolded.

The powers at be were content for the W-League Grand-Final between Melbourne City and Sydney FC to go ahead this weekend, albeit behind closed doors. With just one match remaining in the season, an argument could be made that it is a risk worth taking.

However, endeavouring to continue the A-League season in spite of increased infections around the country and some of the logistical complications that will occur with an immediate change to the schedule, will seem fool hardly to some.

With mandated 14 day quarantine periods now in place for people arriving in both Australia and New Zealand, Johnson’s announcement means that both the Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix will experience such a restriction after returning to Australia. Upcoming matches involving both clubs within that period will be postponed.

Wellington will have their Round 24 clash with Newcastle delayed as well as the already postponed encounter with Sydney FC. Victory will have their matches against Brisbane and Perth pushed back to accommodate the quarantine period.

A-League boss Greg O’Rourke expressed the need for brisk discussions with stadium representatives and clubs in order to re-schedule the final seven rounds of play. Doing so would allow the postponed matches to be held and all teams to play out their allocated 26 games.

It appears mid-week matches will become the norm in an effort to squeeze seven weeks into four.

Despite initially announcing that NPL play would continue, with only people essential to the playing of the game to be in attendance, that decision was reversed on Tuesday. Along with all grassroots football, the game will now go into hiatus until at least April 14.

What Johnson outlined to the media had obviously been carefully considered, in line with the Australian Government’s official advice at the time and after discussions with key stakeholders. However, with most sporting competitions taking the decision to cease indefinitely,  it appears that proceeding with a revised A-League schedule could have serious repercussions for players, staff, referees and their families.

Ploughing forward with a revised schedule in the hope of completing the season and crowning an A-League champion, as well as continuing NPL and grassroots play, would simply have increased human interaction and by extension, the chance of infection. That plan lasted less than a day, with common sense prevailing, aside from the decision to continue the A-League season.

Stoically allowing the matches to proceed does little more that create more human contact than what would take place during a short term suspension of play.

Thus, many will see the FFA decision as irresponsible.

When quizzed by journalists around the ramifications of the loss of gate-takings and the financial hit the game was already taking, Johnson was quick to state that monetary matters were secondary and that the health and wellbeing of the footballing community were of the highest concern, along with the game acting responsibly as a citizen.

Yet with schools acting briskly and postponing events, major sports putting competitions on indefinite hold and all gatherings of 500 people or more now banned in Australia, FFA’s move appears one made by a body determined to proceed in spite of the increased risk that doing so creates.

In reality, the decision could be the most temporary of moves. An infected A-League player would shut the league down instantly and seems inevitable.

No doubt, should the league be ceased at its current point, the ramifications for FFA are profound. Lost revenue stemming from postponed World Cup qualifiers is already on its mind and an Olympics where our national teams were to be showcased appears more and more unlikely

The already financially stretched A-League clubs will suffer further without gate takings and may be forced to forgo corporate benefits from opportunistic businesses looking to align as the season reaches its climax and the finals approach.

A-League wages for both players and staff would come into question, with other codes already toying with notions of broad and mandated percentage pay cuts.

Grassroots registration fees across the country may well be refunded should junior football associations be forced to abandon their seasons and state federations could be left with a financial vacuum and without their most reliable revenue stream.

Without football to cover, media contracts will not be met and the ramifications of adjustments to broadcasting deals to compensate for a lack of content will further hurt the game.

Johnson and O’Rourke have made the call to persist with play and if that proves to be a successful ploy, as infection rates drop and the situation stabilises, they will forever be known as the geniuses who navigated their sport through a period in which others shut down conservatively.

Alternatively, they may be seen as the men who proceeded pig-headedly, when most of the sporting world closed for business.

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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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