Never assume ethnicity is the problem, without addressing the behaviour

The association between a violent brawl at a NPL game and Football Australia rescinding the ban on ethnic club names couldn't be further from the fact, and only helps pernicious issues within Australian sporting culture remain unchallenged.

The association between a violent brawl at a National Premier League (NPL) game and Football Australia (FA) rescinding the ban on ethnic club names couldn’t be further from the fact, and only helps pernicious issues within Australian sporting culture remain unchallenged.

The fight between spectators at a NPL game between Rockdale Ilinden and Sydney United 58 on Sunday was an alarming scene of violence. The fight began after a spectator entered the pitch and interfered with a player, which sparked a full-blown melee where objects were thrown by spectators as police were called to quell the conflict.

In the aftermath, media outlets were quick to jump to the narrative that this fight was caused by the FA’s Inclusivity Principles for Club Identity (IPCI). Previously, clubs had been banned from using names that alluded to ethnic boundaries or events at the advent of the A-league and the death of the NSL, under a National Club Identity Policy which was replaced by the IPCI. While the clubs eschewed their ethnic names and insignia during the period this policy was in place, their heritage and supporter base remained untouched.

FA CEO James Johnson was forced to defend the policy on 2GB radio, while host Ray Hadley grilled him on the incident. To argue that the IPCI caused the violence in the stands on Sunday is to ignore a history of violence in Australian sport. Hadley insinuates that this is an issue for football particularly: “It’s almost unheard of in modern-day sport in Australia. Sometimes things get out of hand at Rugby league, Rugby Union, more particularly your sport”. In his favourite sport – one that hasn’t been “captivated by PC BS” as he eloquently states – spectators are regularly charged with assault after violent clashes.

As recently as this year, Parramatta fans fought in a wild brawl with their fellow supporters at a game. The issue is present within AFL, where spectators are regularly charged with assault. In 2018 two men were hospitalised after being attacked after an AFL game in Melbourne by men wearing their club colours proudly. In 2010 at the WACA, during a one-day test between Australia and Pakistan, a spectator stormed the field and tackled a Pakistani player and was charged with assault and trespass. The problem is a cultural one, that is endemic across all of Australian sport. To blame a spectator brawl on something as irrelevant as the name and identity of the clubs involved, while turning a blind eye to a history of violence that is perpetuated throughout Australian sport is to condemn ourselves to never fixing the cause, and never finding the solution.

Even within the world of football, violence between fans is not a new phenomenon despite what critics of the IPCI would like you to think. It happened before the ban on ethnic club names, it happened during the ban, and it will continue to happen after the introduction of the IPCI. Why is this so? Because a small minority of Australian spectators, regardless of their sport, are prone to violence. Violence between spectators is a worldwide phenomenon and amazingly remains so in countries whose populations are homogeneous and don’t divide themselves into clubs based on their heritage or ethnicity.

NSW Police Detective Superintendent Anthony Cooke stated that it was only a small minority of the spectators involved in the melee on Sunday, and there was no clear link to ethnic violence. With the former National Club Identity Policy in place, football was less inclusive of those of other cultures and ethnicity with little benefit to the game, while suppressing communities that embraced the world game.

This isn’t an effort to downplay the violence in the stands on Sunday however, but to blame the IPCI however is to ignore the fact that it is a minority of people who engage in anti-social behaviour. It remains easier to direct fault towards the policy of the FA instead of addresses the cultural issues that remain within football and Australian sport as a whole.

“We need to focus on the behaviours, not the ethnicity,” Football Australia CEO James Johnson stated in his interview with Ray Hadley. To remove spectator violence from all levels of the football pyramid we need to do exactly this. To villainize supporters based on the heritage of the club they support is to ignore the very real dangers of anti-social behaviour that is fuelled by far greater animosity than the name on their badge. Hadley misses this point completely and seems to believe that if the club had an anglicised name then the spectator violence wouldn’t have happened. The evidence shows this is objectively wrong and drawing upon ethnicity is simply a media narrative that damages the clubs and the footballing industry. The NSL, the precursor to the A-league, was severely damaged and ultimately destroyed by this stigma being attached by the media.

Hadley’s and 2GB’s attempted stitch-up of Johnson shouldn’t be a surprise. Football within Australia has a long history of being some sort of ethnic boogeyman, with the foreigner with the strange name being an easy target for disdain. While the FA has made it clear it won’t tolerate this behaviour from spectators, fans, and club officials, it has also taken the correct stance in deciding to punish those who do wrong based solely on their behaviour. While the violent brawl was unacceptable, and those involved need to be heavily punished with bans as Football Australia intends to do, it isn’t unheard of in the slightest. These issues aren’t self-contained to football or ethnically named clubs and are instead just a symptom of a much larger illness in Australian sporting culture. To ignore the violence that continues to permeate with Australian sport in an attempt to blame a policy that
contributes little to the issue will only allow the real causes to remain unchecked.

Government facilities investment needs to keep up as Women’s Asian Cup looms

In recent times, Football Australia released their ‘Legacy 23 report’ on the Women’s World Cup which was held in Australia and New Zealand last July.

Sarah Walsh – Head of Women’s Football, World Cup Legacy and Inclusion at Football Australia – reflected on the impact of the Matildas after the release of the Legacy report. The Matildas have been at the forefront of transformative societal change, challenging perceptions and gender stereotypes while advocating for sustained evolution within the Australian and international sporting landscape.

“The Legacy ‘23 post-tournament report delves into the success achieved in leveraging the tournament, however, emphasises the need for increased funding to ensure that the legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 isn’t merely a momentary triumph, but evolves into foundations for a thriving, equitable, and dynamic future for football,” Walsh stated.

The numbers revealed in the report were quite staggering. The document stated that the World Cup had generated a $1.32 billion impact on the economy – with over 86,000 visitors to Australia contributing strongly to that figure.

1,288,175 tickets were sold to Australian based matches, with a global television viewership of almost two billion people.

The event itself played a hugely significant role in promoting physical exercise and well-being across the nation with an estimated $324 million reduction in healthcare costs due to this increased activity in the community.

A key part of the ‘Legacy 23’ plan from the FA was to garner increased government investment in facilities – due to the expected boom of popularity in the sport after hosting a World Cup on home shores.

Football Australia unlocked more than $398 million in federal and state government funding for ‘Legacy 23’ related projects. $129 million of the total funds also positively benefitted other sports – due to facility upgrades to stadiums such as Perth Rectangular Stadium, Brisbane Stadium, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium and the La Trobe Sports Precinct in Melbourne.

Due to the Matildas’ success, and FA’s advocacy, the Australian government contributed $200 million to the ‘Play Our Way’ grant program. This is Australia’s biggest comprehensive investment in women’s sports, with funding to address participation barriers through safe, inclusive and sustainable facilities and programs.

While the allocation of the investment between sports for this grant program has not been made public, football must be at the forefront for a large portion of this funding with a home Women’s Asian Cup on the horizon.

According to FA’s ‘Legacy 23’ report, under 20% of the $398 million worth of government funding was invested into community facilities.

“There remains a significant deficiency in facility investment across pivotal states that demands urgent attention,” FA’s report read.

“As participation demands increase, the strain on existing facilities within the 2,400+ clubs nationwide, already at saturation levels, requires immediate attention from all levels of government—federal, state, and local.

“Addressing this gap is essential to meet the expected surge in participation, improve the experience and retention rate for women and girls on our journey to the national 50:50 target, and continue fostering the wide-ranging benefits that football provides to its community of over 2 million people.

“It will therefore be crucial that grassroots football club facility upgrades materially benefit from the Play Our Way grant program.”

The AFC Women’s Football Committee recently recommended Australia as the host country for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup – essentially earmarking another monumental football tournament to be held in our backyard.

According to Australian Financial Review, Football Australia is expecting up to half a million attendees for the event, with visitor/organisation expenditure of between $115 and $140 million, making it the biggest female edition of all time.

With the tournament just two years away, it is essential that further grassroots facility investment is allocated by government parties as the demand and popularity of the sport will continue to grow at a significant rate.

FA claims the Asian Cup represented “a crucial platform to advance the goals outlined in the ‘Legacy 23’, particularly in addressing the shortfall in football facility investment.”

“Australia is ready, one of the most multicultural societies in the world, with over 300 different ancestries and almost 20% of our nation’s population having ties back to countries that comprise the Asian Football Confederation, meaning every team that visits our shores will have a ‘home away from home’ feeling,” the report said.

“This esteemed Asian football tournament provides an ideal platform for all tiers of government to employ football as a tool for effectively implementing sports diplomacy and tourism strategies within Asia.”

The governing body believes there is an overall $2.9 billion facility gap to bring grassroots facilities in line to an acceptable level.

They won’t get anywhere near that level of investment from government authorities immediately, but considerably more must be invested before Asia’s biggest female sporting event comes to our shores.

2023 FIFA review underlines incredible Women’s World Cup impact

FIFA has released their ‘2023 Financials in Review’ statement which highlights the incredible financial and cultural impact of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup heavily contributed to FIFA’s television broadcasting success with the body’s revenue total reaching AU$408.4 mil. The coverage was exceptional with the tournament being shown in over 200 territories by 130 broadcasters and in all other markets thanks to the FIFA+ platform. In order to provide for the ever-growing popularity of the women’s game, FIFA has adapted its media rights sales strategy by taking a more comprehensive and detailed approach to the market.

The skyrocketing television audiences have been replicated on FIFA’s digital platforms. Traffic in the tournament surpassed the entirety of the 2019 tournament within 12 days, welcoming 22 million unique users, with an average of 2.4 million users visiting FIFA Women’s World Cup channels daily.

The biggest source of income was the sale of marketing rights from commercial partnerships, which delivered AU$697 million, more than 101% over budget. FIFA successfully renewed record long-term partnerships with Hyundai/Kia, Qatar Airways and Visa to cover the Women’s World Cup and 2026 Men’s World Cup. A total of 30 sponsors signed up for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, up from 22 in the 2019 edition and they were duly rewarded for that.

Hospitality rights and ticketing sales for the FIFA Women’s World Cup amounted to AU$65.7 million, another record that the tournament smashed.

FIFA benefited from a strong demand for ticket and hospitality packages for this unique tournament, which also set a new Women’s World Cup record with nearly two million tickets sold, smashing their target of 1.5 million that was set in 2019 after the previous edition.

The average attendance rate across the tournament’s 64 matches was 87% with the highest crowd being 75,784 fans packed into a sold-out Stadium Australia to watch the Spain-England final.

Football Australia and the subsequent State federations all have the same focus in terms of making sure they successfully leverage the home World Cup and surpass their KPI’s.

In Football Australia’s One Football Framework, it states that they want to ‘reshape the game for Women and Girls’ which will start by aligning their digital and data strategies to be more focused on women which is similar to FIFA’s successful approach.

Recently the ‘Play our way’ program shows the government’s commitment with them providing $200 million in grants to improve sporting facilities for women and girls around Australia in the hopes to create a solid base for future growth.

The Legacy ’23 investments into Football that will amount to AU$296 million, will be key in maintaining growth and talent development as the A-Leagues sort out issues with professionalism and club finances that are affecting both the Men’s and Women’s game.

The success of the recent u20’s Young Matildas Asian Cup can’t be underestimated either in terms of the bright future this country is showing. A third place finish and bronze medal was the best ever finish from a Young Matildas side in the competition, with the squad featuring four players under the age of 18, one of the youngest in the competition.

These statistics by FIFA show that women’s football is experiencing a surge of interest and recognition, and the framework set out by Football Australia can ensure that is success is sustained long-term and positively affects participation at grassroots level.

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