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FFA CEO James Johnson: “We have many challenges in front of us as a sport”

James Johnson FFA CEO

Is James Johnson the trailblazer Australian football needs?

When James Johnson, the FFA CEO, attended his first press conference in mid January, he could never have predicted the enormous challenges facing Australian football.

Significantly, he was the first CEO in the history of the FFA to have a football background, having played for Brisbane Strikers at youth and senior level in the NSL and also being an original member of Les Scheinflug’s Joey’s squad of 1999 which performed so gallantly to reach the final in New Zealand before succumbing in a penalty shootout to the mighty Brazil.

In late March, mainly due to the impact of COVID-19, it seemed the sky was falling when 70 per cent of the FFA staff were stood down and there was extreme uncertainty about Fox Sports’ commitment to A-League coverage.

Fortunately, Johnson demonstrated all the negotiation skills he had gained in his senior roles at the PFA, Asian Football Confederation, FIFA and the City Group since 2009 to carve out a deal which ensured A-League backing from Fox for the remainder of the current season and to the end of next season.

He also played a major part in Australia and New Zealand securing the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and was the main architect behind the selection of the Starting XI and the proposed XI Principles which are designed to lead football into a new era.

Nevertheless, despite his track record and excellent credentials, Johnson has one of the toughest jobs in Australian sport as he tries to unite the stakeholders of a game which has always exhibited major political divisions.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, James Johnson discusses all things football in his attempt to take the game to a new high in the Australian sporting landscape.

ROGER SLEEMAN
What are your views on the current state of Australian football?

JAMES JOHNSON
We have many challenges in front of us as a sport, intensified by COVID-19. These include the economics of cost and funding, as well as many football challenges, for example rankings in senior men’s national teams and not producing the same number of players competing in leading overseas Leagues. Also, our youth teams still find it hard to qualify through Asia in both the men’s and women’s game so this has to be addressed.

However, there are many opportunities, including capitalising on the large participation rate, local and global ownership, NPL clubs with an amazing history which has to be tapped into, and great products in the Matildas and the Socceroos, with the Tokyo Olympic Games, and World Cups, including one on home-soil in 2023, to look forward to.

ROGER SLEEMAN
Which of the Proposed XI Principles deserve major priority?

JAMES JOHNSON
They are all important as they include a vision, a narrative and definition of who we are. These philosophical football principles must be reinforced by commercial well-being of the game so real change can be implemented. Critically, changes in all parts of the game are required to realise the principles.

ROGER SLEEMAN
What is the state of progress in the efforts to fund the game, in light of the competitive marketplace and sponsorship dollars foregone?

JAMES JOHNSON
The traditional methods of business are broadcast, sponsorship, gate receipts and player registration fees. Undoubtedly, post COVID-19, broadcast revenues will be more difficult to obtain and sponsorship will be more competitive. Due to globalisation of the game across the world, the sponsorship funds go to bigger Leagues and clubs. Therefore, in Australia we need to look at new ways like O.T.T. and digitalisation of the game to produce more reliable revenue streams. Capital investment from the private sector and government also has to be increased.

ROGER SLEEMAN
What is being done to engage the general media in lifting the profile of the game within print, radio, television, and internet mediums?

JAMES JOHNSON
Firstly, we have to identify how our supporters are absorbing content. Our ongoing market research shows the A-League supporter is between 16-30 years of age and they are obtaining content through digital means, for example social media, especially Facebook. We have to capitalise on this further, but we shouldn’t ignore traditional and mainstream media. The Women’s World Cup can be very important in leading the transition to gain increased coverage through this medium. Also, we have to identify people in mainstream media who support our game and can influence the decision makers. In this regard, I recently met with Karl Stefanovic from the 9 Network who played youth football in Cairns and whose father played for West Ham. We have to be smart and find such people to put their hand up and make a statement for the code.

ROGER SLEEMAN
What are your plans to revamp the youth development system?

JAMES JOHNSON
In this space, there are significant challenges and it takes a long time to develop pathways. Some of our recent failures to qualify in both men and women youth tournaments must be reversed and we have to find ways to invest in youth development and pathways. Ideally, a transfer system will be an incentive for NPL and A-League clubs to focus on player development which will guarantee rewards and reinvestment in the game.

ROGER SLEEMAN
There is a distinct absence of technical players in Australia and very few playing regularly in the world’s top Leagues. What are you proposing in this area?

JAMES JOHNSON
The improvement in technical skills is a major priority for our game and we are discussing this in detail with the Starting XI. Regarding the fewer Aussie players in top Leagues, the freedom of movement of players in Europe sees more players moving across borders which increases the talent pool and can limit the opportunities for our players.

ROGER SLEEMAN
The selection of the Starting XI with former star players like Mark Viduka, Paul Okon and Mark Bosnich was an innovative step but what about former players who have achieved at the highest level in the game and in business but are not given a chance to contribute, e.g. Jack Reilly, Peter Katholos, Danny Moulis, Alan Davidson, Craig Johnston, Gary Marocchi, Glen Sterrey, Richie Williams, Manny Spanoudakis and Dave McQuire to name a few.

JAMES JOHNSON
The Starting XI is a football advisory panel and they have provided a lot of feedback already, including on the transfer system. Certainly, we have to listen to other football people to assist the game’s growth, and we are very open to doing so.

ROGER SLEEMAN
The game’s history reflects a lack of recognition for former players to be involved.
Your comment.

JAMES JOHNSON
I reiterate, it is important to draw on the expertise of former players and perfect examples are (Zvonimir) Boban and (Marco) Van Basten with FIFA and (Dejan) Savicevic at UEFA. The appointment of Mark Bresciano and Amy Duggan to the FFA Board last year was a positive move and former Socceroo and Newcastle Jets CEO, Robbie Middleby, is making a big difference at the FFA. Sarah Walsh, a former Matilda, is also a member of our senior management and works in our participation and grassroots space.

ROGER SLEEMAN
What are your thoughts on the proposed change of season from summer to winter?

JAMES JOHNSON
Obviously, the practical reason for a change is the late finish in August, rather than May this season. We have flagged the 2020/21 competition to start in December which will allow a fair time for the clubs and players to re-set and provide the opportunity for us to assess the benefits of A-League, W-League, NPL and grassroots playing simultaneously. This will also test the alignment of more grass-root supporters to become fans of senior football.

ROGER SLEEMAN
Many people believe the decision of the Board to deny the Southern Expansion an A-League license was a major mistake, particularly in light of their commitment to put down $15 million dollars on the table immediately and their Chinese backer’s intention to purchase Shark Park from Cronulla League’s club.
Your comment.

JAMES JOHNSON
I can’t comment because I wasn’t in the country at the time, but I can say, there is a solid commitment in the XI Principles for our Professional Leagues to be expanded.

Football Queensland to celebrate Female Football Week in March

Football Queensland have announced their 2021 Female Football Week will be held from March 1 to March 8.

The week-long initiative will conclude on International Women’s Day.

“Football Queensland is delighted to announce this year’s Female Football Week, which will recognise the contributions of women and girls in our game while promoting female participation across all areas of football,” FQ President Ben Richardson said.

“Women and girls are the future of our game, and Football Queensland is committed to strengthening pathways, developing infrastructure and delivering high-quality participation experiences to create more opportunities for women and girls to join our game as outlined in our Strategic Plan.

“This is a focus now more than ever as we enter the centenary season of women’s football here in Queensland, look ahead to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 to be held on home soil, and prepare to launch our 2021-2023 Women and Girls Strategy.”

“Football Queensland is proud of the progress we are making to grow the women’s game across the state, and we’re excited to celebrate this year’s Female Football Week alongside the opening round of the NPL Junior Girls competition and the ground-breaking new Kappa Women’s Super Cup,” FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci said.

“It’s been fantastic to see such a strong interest in the inaugural state-wide competition especially from our regional clubs, with 55 teams from community level to the NPL Queensland competing from across nine regions.

“Unlocking new opportunities for female players across Queensland, the Kappa Women’s Super Cup will kick off on the final weekend of Female Football Week and showcase some of the state’s best female players.

“Football Queensland’s Female Football Week celebrations will then continue into the following week, with a number of programs and initiatives planned as we look towards the opening round of our NPL Women’s competition on March 12.

“We encourage our zones and clubs across the state to join us in celebrating the contributions of women and girls in our game as part of Female Football Week by running their own initiatives and events which we look forward to supporting.”

Clubs in Queensland can register their Female Football Week initiatives and view event ideas here.

FIFA appoints Chief Operating Officers for Women’s World Cup 2023

FIFA has appointed two Chief Operating Officers (COOs) for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand.

FIFA has appointed two Chief Operating Officers (COOs) for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

Jane Fernandez and Jane Patterson have been named as COOs for Australia and New Zealand respectively, after their initial appointments last year to lead the FIFA Women’s World Cup office for their host countries.

Fernandez led Football Australia’s successful bid to host the tournament and subsequently led to her appointment as Head of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Office (Australia). She’s was also the Head of Sport for the Australian Olympic Committee and Tournament Director of the AFC Asian Cup 2015.

Patterson worked on sports events across Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the UK, featuring a a wide range of world championships in netball, BMX, para-swimming and taekwondo and major events including the Ironman Triathlon and the New Zealand Open golf tournament.

She was recognised for her achievements in service to sport with a New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016. She also worked for NZ Football as Project Director for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

Jane Patterson (right) receiving the New Zealand Order of Merit from Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO (left) during the Investiture Ceremony at Government House Auckland in 2016. (Credit: The Office of the Governor-General)

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura:

“Today’s announcement adds to the excitement around the ninth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

“We are delighted to welcome Jane Patterson and Jane Fernandez on board as Chief Operating Officers for the competition.

Their skill, experience in leading multi-talented teams and passion for football will be key to ensuring the delivery of the FIFA Women’s World Cup at the highest level.”

Football Australia Chief Executive Officer James Johnson:

“We are delighted that Jane Fernandez has been appointed to this prestigious and important position, and that her vast knowledge and skillset will continue to be utilised by FIFA for the biggest sporting event to be held on Australian soil since Sydney 2000.”

CEO of New Zealand Football, Andrew Pragnell:

“New Zealand Football are thrilled to see Jane Patterson confirmed as Chief Operating Officer (New Zealand) for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

“Jane has done a stellar job to date as Project Director for the Initial Operating Phase and we are delighted to see her continue to bring her wealth of knowledge and experience to the tournament.”

The newly-appointed COOs will oversee the operational aspects for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand. It’s the first time this tournament will be co-hosted in FIFA’s history, that will feature 32 teams – an increase from 24 in France 2019.

Applications open for Sport Australia’s Women Leaders in Sport Grants

Sport Australia is now accepting applications for the 2021 Women Leaders in Sport (WLIS) Development Grants and Leadership Workshops.

Sport Australia is now accepting applications for the 2021 Women Leaders in Sport (WLIS) Development Grants and Leadership Workshops.

The WLIS Development Grants and Leadership Workshops form part of the broader WLIS program, featuring activities that help women in the sports industry obtain new skills, knowledge and qualifications to progress their leadership pathway in the sector.

The programs are run by Sport Australia, partnered with the Office for Women. The highly regarded WLIS workshops mark its 20th year, where over 25,000 women in the sports industry have achieved leadership development since 2002.

Women working in the sports industry can apply for individual grants up to $10,000 to support their professional development and to attend online leadership workshops. Organisations are able to apply for leadership development grants up to $20,000 that covers workshops, seminars and conferences for staff.

“We know that having a greater balance of men and women in executive leadership positions makes sporting organisations more dynamic and well-rounded in the way they conduct their businesses,” Sport Australia Acting CEO Rob Dalton said.

“Having that diversity at a leadership level has a direct impact on engagement in sport and ultimately, positively impacts the bottom line for sports.

“It is vitally important to ensure that our next generation of female sports leaders are provided with genuine development opportunities, which is what this program delivers and why it has been extended and expanded for a four-year cycle.

“Sport Australia is so pleased the Australian Government has acknowledged the importance of the WLIS program with an increased funding commitment of $3.4 million over the next four financial years, ensuring the program can expand and deliver even further development opportunities for women to reach their leadership potential in our industry.”

Individuals and organisations have until Wednesday, March 17 2021 at 5pm to apply for the WLIS Development Grants and Workshops.

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