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Is the A-League’s return to winter another unnecessary tinkering of Australian football?

Just over 30 years ago, a decision was made to shift the top tier of Australian domestic football from winter to the summer months. Five days ago, a decision appears to have been made to switch it back.

Thus is the beautiful game down under.

Such an about turn is systematic of football in Australia, with the game rarely given any chance to settle, find its niche and become a consistent and predictable presence in the Australian sporting landscape.

For whatever reason, those who have arisen to power in the Australian game have historically held the belief that they knew what was best for it. As that power was passed from one to another, each recipient implemented the changes they felt would be advantageous for the game.

In reality, the consistent changes and alterations made to Australian football has weakened it. Egos and agendas have directed the game, many without the best interests of it at heart.

No doubt, FFA boss James Johnson has his own vision for the game and the business acumen, football knowledge and street cred required to do a stellar job in his new role. His preference to move to winter football to cope with the drastically altered schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was not particularly well cloaked. Nor it appears, did he intend it to be.

Citing a need for the game to move forward under the one umbrella, Johnson clearly sees value in having NPL and junior competitions taking place concurrently with the A and W Leagues.

However, it might serve people well to recall the reasons why the game did first move into the summer months for the 1989/90 NSL season and the frustrations that brought that decision to pass.

As far back as the mid-1960’s there had been ideas centred around creating a national football competition in Australia. True to form, initial concerns were raised by the state federations.

It appears that the mere suggestion of a uniformed national competition raised their ire, with a concern emerging that status and influence within their own state borders may be lessened. Not much has changed I guess.

It took some time, 1977 in fact, for a consensus to be reached and the first incarnation of the National Soccer League to take shape, with 14 clubs selected to participate.

In essence, that should have been it. With a league in place, all that was required was to begin formulating a second division and a fair and just interstate play-off system to determine those clubs to be promoted in replace of those relegated at the completion of each season. From there, natural attrition would take place and clubs’ financial positions and decision making structures would determine who survived and who did not.

Instead, Australian football went down the path of constant tinkering and adjustment, things that have done little more than weaken the appeal of the competition to potential new fans and make it something of a farce to many in the broader sports loving Australian public.

An early experiment with northern and southern conferences was embarked upon; no doubt an attempt to cap costs for clubs struggling with the financial demands of travel and accommodation. That was to die a brisk death, as was the move to a ‘first past the post’ championship winning team, something the domestic game had not seen due to an assumed Australian preference for semi, preliminary and grand finals. It took just a season for those finals matches to be re-instated.

Hell bent on searching for a football elixir that frankly does not exist, the plan to enjoy some ‘clean air’ and move football to the summer months was hatched. The fundamental reasoning by the powers at be were threefold. The weather was warmer, pitches of a better quality and without rugby league and AFL competition, the hope was that football may find its niche.

It may have given time, yet the powers at be were not finished fiddling with and fossicking around the game.

The migrant heritages of NSL clubs was the next aspect to come under siege. Authorities encouraged fans to embrace the new agenda in order to become more attractive to mainstream Australian society. Many fans become incensed at the jettisoning of the history and culture that had helped form and strengthen their clubs in the first place.

Not long after, the emergence of teams named Collingwood Warriors and Carlton reeked of a cheap attempt to infiltrate the AFL market and as the clubs’ identities became less and less assured, the league slipped further and further into decline.

That lack of identity, fans and money had the competition on its knees by 2004 and effectively, dead.

When the A-League launched for the 2005/06 season, there was much fanfare. Played in summer and refreshed with newly branded clubs designed to appeal to a broader section of the Australian community than ever before, there were clear ups and downs.

Some franchises capitulated, yet a core group survived the first 15 years, despite the financial constraints of a salary cap and the challenges of running a professional sports team in Australia.

By 2019, after years of cries for it to happen, the league was set to expand. New teams in both Melbourne and Sydney would result in an eventual 12 team competition by 2021. An average of 10,000 people attended matches and around 126,000 had become official members of the clubs. FFA data also showed that the number of Australians showing allegiance to a team had never been higher.

Yet in 2020, it now appears the game is once again on the move. It could well be the right one, yet with another major shake-up destined to send Australia’s top league a few steps back before hopefully lurching forward in the future, one might ask when football might be left alone long enough to grow, without administrative force-feeding.

The longer it takes for the elite competition to truly find a foothold and flourish, the more attractive tinkering and tweaking appears to be. Sadly, each effort sends the game backwards for a short time and the process begins all over again.

Both the NSL and now the A-League have struggled to find a set of unique identifiers that helped define them clearly to Australian sports fans. Shifting goal posts gave them little chance to do so.

Having new fans attach themselves to a league becomes increasingly difficult when the subject of their interest is constantly moving.

Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

W-League awards to be held this week

Football Federation Australia (FFA) have confirmed a special W-League edition of the Dolan Warren Awards will take place this Thursday, July 23.

The awards will be held virtually via the W-League website and the competition’s official Facebook page.

Hosted by Fox Sports presenter Tara Rushton, the event will begin from 12pm with the Julie Dolan Medal winner to be announced by 7pm.

FFA Head of Leagues, Greg O’Rourke, was excited to celebrate the best of the past W-League season.

“During these challenging times, unfortunately it is has not been possible for us to gather for the traditional Dolan Warren Awards Gala event, but we will hero the magic of the Westfield W-League 2019/20 via an innovative virtual show,” said O’Rourke.

“There were plenty of amazing performances during the past Westfield W-League season and I hope the fans will be able to get behind this special Westfield W-League edition of the Dolan Warren Awards.

“With the standard of football that we witnessed this season being so high, I am sure the award winners we announce on Thursday will be of the highest calibre,” concluded O’Rourke.

The schedule for the event and the awards that are being handed out are listed below.

Dolan Warren Awards 2020 – Westfield W-League edition

12:00pm – Welcome and Westfield W-League 2019/20 Fair Play Award

1:00pm – Westfield W-League 2019/20 Referee of the Year Award

2:00pm – Westfield W-League 2019/20 Golden Boot

3:00pm – Westfield W-League 2019/20 Goal of the Year

4:00pm – Westfield W-League 2019/20 Goal Keeper of the Year

5:00pm – Westfield W-League 2019/20 Coach of the Year

6:00pm – Westfield W-League 2019/20 Young Footballer of the Year

7:00pm – The Julie Dolan Medal (Best player throughout the W-League season)

(Times are AEST)

Destination NSW partners with A-League

Football Federation Australia (FFA) have announced Destination NSW will become an official partner for the remainder of the A-League season.

As the state government’s official tourism and events agency, Destination NSW is currently undertaking a marketing campaign titled ‘Love NSW’, encouraging people to spend locally during this time.

The Love NSW campaign will feature in LED and virtual signage across a majority of the remaining A-League games this season.

NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, believes the partnership will be a huge boost, in what has been a tough year.

“In what has been an incredibly challenging year, the NSW Government is proud to support the return of the Hyundai A-League and use this high-impact opportunity to help our state’s tourism industry to recover,” Mr Ayres said.

“This partnership is a fantastic opportunity for us to promote the unique experiences and attractions NSW has to offer local holidaymakers now and in the future through high-reaching broadcast and social media activity.”

“All travellers and businesses must follow the latest health advice to ensure all NSW adventures are COVID-safe.”

FFA CEO James Johnson thanked the minister and Destination NSW for their support.

“Over recent weeks, we have been working with the NSW Government at many levels, through their support and assistance in getting our Hyundai A-League teams to NSW, and on developing this integrated marketing partnership,” Johnson said.

“The fixture to complete the season will see Hyundai A-League matches played across five different NSW venues, in Sydney and in regional areas, and is therefore a great platform to showcase the state of NSW.”

Johnson continued: “COVID-19 has required sports rightsholders and marketers alike to be agile and look for creative partnerships that adapt to the constantly evolving circumstances our community is facing.

“The condensed nature of the restart to the Hyundai A-League season allows brands to capitalise on the unique media opportunity that our Festival of Football provides, especially for those looking to amplify targeted campaigns.

“We greatly appreciate the support of the NSW Government through Destination NSW for the remainder of the Hyundai A-League season and encourage our fans across the country and the world to #LoveNSW,” he concluded.

Matildas and Olyroos receive funding boost for Olympics

The Matildas and Olyroos will receive a high-performance grant from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to prepare for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

The Olyroos will receive a one-off high-performance grant of $400,000 from the AIS, whilst the Matildas will have a longer-term commitment of funding from the institute beyond the conclusion of the Olympic games.

The AIS will draw the funds from the Federal Government’s $50.6 million investment package in high performance sport for the next two years, which was announced last month.

FFA CEO James Johnson welcomed the announcement and contribution from the respective parties.

“We appreciate and acknowledge the investment of the AIS and the Federal Government into the Matildas and the Olyroos ahead of Tokyo 2020,” Johnson said.

“The high-performance funding that both the Federal Government and also the Australian Institute of Sport provides our code is extremely important.”

“Football is the world’s most competitive sport – there are 211 countries across the world that are playing it, 46 in Asia alone. In Asia, Governments are investing in national team activity, so this additional support is helpful for us as we aim to continue to maintain our competitiveness against our neighbouring countries.

“We believe that the participation of the Matildas and Olyroos at next year’s Games – the first time that they have competed together since Athens 2004 – will add significant interest and excitement to the Games in Australia.

“Football has two million participants in Australia, so we expect our sport’s presence on this great international stage to play an important role in engaging Australians with Tokyo 2020, and inspiring more kids to take up sport and be active. And we look forward to working closely with the AIS and Government as we build up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil in 2023,” he concluded.  

The Olyroos will compete at their first Olympic games since Beijing 2008, whereas the Matildas reached the quarter finals of the 2016 tournament in Rio.

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