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New South Wales NPL clubs share Victorian counterparts’ fears of recommencement

Despite the existence of a desperate desire to see training resume for footballers across New South Wales, such a move may do more damage that good.

As of 12.00am Friday the 22nd of May, COVID-19 induced restrictions were eased and clubs began informing their members of the intended timeline for a potential return to full training in the coming weeks. Currently, all training must be undertaken in line with the Public Health Order issued by the New South Wales State Government.

That order has informed the Return to Training Guidelines issued by Football New South Wales. Those documents outline the overarching goal of allowing football training to recommence whilst also ensuring safe and positive conditions for all players, coaches and officials.

More specifically, a set of clear guidelines have been constructed in order to ensure that safety. At each session there is a requirement to:

  • have gatherings of no more than 10 people at any time.
  • have appropriate social distancing of at least 1.5m between people at all times.
  • allow for at least 4m2 for all participants at all times.
  • maintain reasonable levels of hygiene to minimise the risk of infection.

Should all go well, the intention is for game simulation, contested ball and social activity before and after the sessions to once again be permitted in the near future.

It has been a bold undertaking and one that required a set of somewhat strict measures to even be approved at a government level. However, with drill based sessions a far cry from a return to trial matches and eventual competitive play, any conviction that football is officially back in New South Wales and not threatened by COVID-19, is far from convincing.

Whilst it will be heartening to see young kids back on the pitch and enjoying the beautiful game, the ramifications of a return to play in Australia’s semi-professional landscape are challenging and potentially crippling.

The governing body in New South Wales has been categorical in its current position, “all football activities are suspended through to 31 May 2020 and no decision has been made in relation to Football NSW’s NPL Competitions for the 2020 season.” No doubt, with players now gradually returning to limited training, a statement of intention in regards to what happens post May 31, will surely be looming in coming days.

Should competition recommencement be the crux of that statement, clubs will potentially be placed in a precarious and life threatening position. As is the case with their Victorian counterparts, a number of NPL clubs have already approached Football NSW expressing a desire to cancel the season.

Sponsors have been lost, the doors of once profitable social clubs have remained pad locked for over two months and many clubs seem unlikely to be able to meet their wage bill for 2020. Throw in a potential return to play without spectators, where the clubs may in fact be forced to trade even deeper into the red.

The costs of venue hire would remain, payments for officials and security requirements may potentially be lessened but still in existence and revenue from gate takings and food/beverage sales would be zero. Thus, NPL clubs across New South Wales may well be asked to operate at a substantial loss should their federation demand a return to play.

Should a positive Coronavirus test cause a second shut down of the season, it will have all been for nothing. The best laid plans could be torpedoed in an instant; leaving clubs lamenting the recommencement and knowing things had actually worsened thanks to their return to the field. The shutting down of Waverley College, an Eastern Suburbs private school, on May 26th displayed just how fraught with risk a return to any organised activity where increased social contact occurs actually is.

New South Wales’ students had only returned to school in a full-time capacity the day prior and despite all best intentions to have children back in a safe and comfortable environment, for Waverley College, the recommencement of classes was a sheer waste of, and a potentially dangerous, time.

Football New South Wales needs to consider such realities when contemplating a recommencement of play. As keen as I am to have Blacktown City challenging for the NPL1 title, doing so whilst clubs continue to lose money and have their long term existence threatened may well be enough to sway its decision towards conceding defeat to COVID-19.

It would be a sad decision for football, yet one that may well need to be made.

 

 

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Is Australia ready for a two-year World Cup cycle?

Battle lines are being drawn between FIFA and key stakeholders, as it remains to be seen whether Australia will support the push for a two-year World Cup cycle.

FIFA’s minutes from the 71st Congress, where Saudi Arabia put forward the motion to study the viability of a two-year cycle, doesn’t include what member federations voted for in the motion.

Football Australia hasn’t stated publicly whether they were one of the 166 nations who voted for the motion, or whether they support the plans.

Football Australia is instead adopting a wait-and-see approach, to avoid taking a position before any proposal for changes are put forward after the viability study is completed.

Two-time A-League Coach of the Year Ernie Merrick believes the push from FIFA for a two-year World Cup cycle is because of business and money.

“It’s about profit and loss. It’s not about the people in the sport really, and FIFA are always competing with their confederations, of which there are six, and FIFA only have one event where they make substantial money from revenue and that’s every four years,” Merrick said.

“So in effect FIFA loses money for three years, and then the fourth year and makes massive profits mainly from broadcast, ticket sales, and sponsorship from a World Cup.”

The majority of FIFA’s $8.7 billion in revenue between 2015-2018 came from the 2018 Men’s tournament.

The commercial value of another World Cup every four years is incredibly attractive to the governing body as a way to boost its already full coffers.

Australian football will struggle to keep up with other countries if the World Cup is hosted every two years, according to Merrick.

“At the same time a lot of countries, including Asian countries, are spending an enormous amount of money on facilities and preparation setups for national competition. We all know of England’s setup, which is huge at St George’s Park, and here we don’t have a designated specific setup to prepare national teams,” he said.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that will have to change to give Australia a chance to qualify on a regular basis. We certainly have good players and good coaches and we can compete with anyone regarding players, coaching and strategy but when it comes to the sort of money involved in preparing a national team, friendly games, and the amount of travel involved, Australia is really going to suffer.”

Michael Valkanis – former A-League coach, player and current Greece assistant coach – believes that without aligning with FIFA international dates, it means the A-League will struggle to adapt to a two-year World Cup cycle.

“We saw the effects of the Socceroos going away to play, and it always makes it difficult on A-League coaches and teams to support that.” Valkanis said.

“You can see the effects it can have on finals games, and we’ve been crying out for a long time that we become parallel with the rest of the world with international dates.”

Some of Australia’s biggest competitors in the AFC are showing ambivalence towards the concept.

“It would depend on how it would all be organised,” a Korean FA official told Deutsche Welle.

“If we want to have consistent success then we need to play as many competitive games against South American and European teams as possible. At the moment, we play one or two games every four years if we qualify. It’s not enough.”

While the viability of a two-year World Cup cycle is being studied, it is unclear how determined FIFA is to implement such a radical change to the football calendar against intense opposition from some of its members.

Merrick believes the end result could be FIFA demanding a portion of the confederation’s revenue.

“I think four years is probably a better situation at the moment – maybe three years down the track – but I think confederations will have to come to an arrangement with FIFA, and FIFA will want to take some of their revenue somehow through licensing,” Merrick said.

Those involved in international football already believe that the best model is the one we have currently, something that Valkanis is a strong fan of.

“I am a traditionalist. I think the World Cup is something special that stands out from any other competition in the world,” he said.

“The only other event that comes close is the Olympic Games, and to change the format so we see it every two years instead of four, I don’t think it leaves it the same. It is special the way it is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson will have a challenge on his hands navigating what a change in the World Cup’s schedule means for Australian football, as FIFA continues to push for increased revenue from the game.

Football Coaches Australia welcomes Sports Integrity Australia independent investigation

FCA

Football Coaches Australia (FCA) welcomed the broad independent investigative mandate provided by Football Australia to Sport Integrity Australia, encompassing four different areas – harassment, bullying, intimidation and discrimination.

FCA encourages current and former players, administrators, referees and coaches, as well as parents and others involved in football in Australia to come forward through this process to enhance the positive cultural development in our sport.

FCA President Phil Moss stated: “As an organisation we have sought transparency, due process and procedural fairness from day one, so we fully support an independent and wide-ranging investigation into the culture of football in Australia.

“We must, as a game, hold ourselves to the highest of standards.

“The culture we live every day, how we treat each other and ensuring we are setting up the next generation to enjoy our great game is of paramount importance and entirely non-negotiable.”

Newly elected FCA Vice President Sarah West endorsed Phil’s statement:

“Everyone in our sport, from professional players, coaches, referees, administrators and staff through to those involved at the grass roots, has the right to participate in a positive and safe environment and to be treated with respect and fairness.

“There is no place in our game for abuse or harassment of any kind. This unacceptable behaviour harms people and diminishes the game.

“As coaches we have a duty of care to those we are entrusted to work with and must endeavour to always create environments which provide safety, trust and inclusivity so that everyone can enjoy the beautiful game on and off the pitch.”

Media inquiries can be directed to FCA Chief Executive Officer, Glenn Warry, on +61 417 346 312

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