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Why the FFA have made the right call on grassroots soccer

The grassroots level is where our stars are born, where we discover our love for the game.

It’s arguably the most important level of the game and without it, the sport of soccer in this country would be next to nothing.

In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak that has been dominating the headlines worldwide, the FFA originally decided to continue games at the community level, without crowds.

From a certain point of view, it made sense.

Local clubs thrive on matchdays and to play fixtures as per usual, just without any supporters.

Only players, coaches, officials, registered ground staff and media were going to be allowed attendance.

But this week, the FFA have overruled this decision, instead opting to postpone all fixtures below the A-League until the virus outbreak reaches a manageable level.

One which would allow fans to go to games without running the risk of contracting COVID-19.

It’s hard to argue that the FFA have made the incorrect decision.

As much as we want to watch our favourite clubs play whilst we sit at home, cheering them on, it’s hard for clubs to warrant fixtures being played without gameday income.

As fans, we can often take our purchases and financial commitments to clubs for granted. It’s easy to do so, especially if you’re a long serving member of the club.

At the start of the year, prior to the outbreak, many fans would’ve felt paid their membership fees, bought their attire and anything else without thinking twice.

Just the beginning of another season.

But now, with all those fees paid and no games to help bring more money in, clubs would struggle.

Clubs rely heavily on food, drinks and ticket purchases to keep them afloat during the season. It’s a reliable source of income that doesn’t need much attention, if any.

People will always buy tickets on the day, buy their own dinners and even a few drinks if they’re in the mood. It’s a given for most clubs and it is an easy way to make profit.

However, with no fans at games, things change drastically.

Players, coaches, ground staff and club media still have paychecks to be met. Referees are in the same boat.

Power bills don’t come cheap and with games being played, you can bet those bills would take their toll, especially night fixtures where lights are required to be on.

Furthermore, by playing these fixtures, you run the risk of people contracting the virus.

Yes, it’s not as risky as having hundreds or thousands of fans enter the stadiums/grounds.

But the chances of it happening, albeit slim, are still higher than we all wish it was.

Clubs will still make significant losses from this outbreak, make no mistake about that.

Some AFL clubs are reporting that they may be in for financial losses of more than $5 million, a staggering amount.

Clubs across the Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League will also make losses.

Community level clubs are in the same boat. But it’s certainly smarter and above all else, safer to have these games postponed until the time comes when we can all shake hands again.

When we can go outside without having to worry about what might happen.

When we can live our lives as per normal.

Many fans will be staying at home during these bizarre times and limiting how often they leave the house.

As much as they’d love to see their sides play whilst in the comfort and safety of their own homes, it simply isn’t the way.

Fans will simply need to find other ways to entertain themselves as their local clubs will have to join many more around the world, in a period of limbo.

Although the decision would have been one they did not make lightly, FFA CEO James Johnson and his team have certainly done the right thing in postponing.

By running these fixtures, it’s simply running the unnecessary risk of spreading the virus and that’s the last thing needed right now.

Johnson has been thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire as CEO, but he has made a good start in trying circumstances and let’s hope he stays on this trend.

However, he and his team need to continue making these tough calls.

Next up, postponement of the A-League.

Once again, it’s merely common sense.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let us know and get involved in the conversation on Twitter @Soccersceneau

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The best of Asia unite for the AFC’s #BreakTheChain campaign

The AFC

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has united with some of the biggest names in Asian football to launch a new campaign that encourages people from around the world to play their role in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.

#BreakTheChain carries the message of solidarity in these difficult times and promotes the guidelines put in place by the World Health Organisation (WHO), focusing on good personal hygiene practices, social distancing and respecting the rules of self-quarantine.

The first instalment features eight of Asian football’s finest including 2018 AFC Women’s Player of the Year, Wang Shuang from China PR, Suwon Samsung Bluewings duo Terry Antonis and Doneil Henry as well as Korea Republic and Chelsea FC star Ji So-yun. The quartet are just some of Asian football’s stars who are doing their part to support communities across Asia.

It is part of the AFC’s continued commitment to its Member Associations and the Asian football family.

“In these unprecedented and challenging times, the AFC extends its wish that all members of the Asian football community remain safe and healthy,” said AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

“Football will have an important role to play in the weeks and months ahead as the world returns to normality, but now our focus is firmly on protecting the well-being of all those who are involved in our great game.”

He also praised the AFC Member Associations for their cooperation and valuable feedback following the AFC’s decision to postpone several competitions, matches and events as part of efforts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of teams, players, fans and all stakeholders.

“These changes to our calendar were aimed at ensuring the safety and health of our Members, their officials, their players, their staff and, of course, the millions of fans who engage with football in Asia each year,” he added.

“Their health is, and always will be, our priority and that is why it is important that the AFC and all our Member and Regional Associations work with Governments and Health Agencies to curtail the threat of this virus and that everyone should take all precautions.

“The AFC strongly urges all its Members to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to exercise the highest levels of hygiene and are pleased to note that some Members have also declared a ‘work from home’ initiative.

“The AFC has built its strong foundations on unity and solidarity – particularly in the face of adversity – during the last six years and this situation is another challenge which we will take on together to protect not only our communities but also the future of our game.

“Of course, the AFC will take a strong lead and will, as always, be on hand to offer advice and assistance to any of our Member and Regional Associations in these uncertain times.”

How should Australian football best use its COVID-19 postponement?

FFA head James Johnson revealed the worst keep secret in Australian football early Tuesday morning; announcing the immediate suspension of A-League play on the back of the continued threat of COVID-19 . With states and territories having moved decisively on border control and lock down procedures, Johnson referred to a continuation as having become practically impossible.

The W-League did manage to squeeze their season in before the announcement was made, with a grand final between Melbourne City and Sydney FC last Saturday. The Melbourne City women may well be the last football team in Australia to win a championship for some time.

Words such as unprecedented, unique and testing have been common place in language over the past few weeks and the seriousness of the pandemic escapes no one at this time. Public health and prude governance are the most important aspects of the current situation, hopefully, wise decisions and action lead to a flattening of the curve and a slow return to normality over the next few months.

With around 1.8 million Australians who would normally be engaged with the beautiful game at this time of year in isolation and forbidden to compete, it would be prudent for FFA to think about encouraging behaviours that will benefit domestic football when it does eventually return.

As a first port of call, FFA should interact with the federations and ensure that junior players are sent age and skill appropriate drills to complete whilst confined to their home address. Many children will have a backyard in which to complete the drills, whilst others may be limited to small spaces available in apartments or town houses.

Technical directors could construct short clips and illustrated diagrams and then email and/or text the content to players using the official register in each federation.

Many young people will be feeling anxious about COVID-19, thanks to certain sections of the media that do little to encourage calm and thoughtful behaviour. Providing content for kids to work individually on their football skills would be a nice way to add a dose of normality for what will be a very strange time in their lives.

Slightly older players could also be engaged by their clubs, with coaching staff and technical consultants producing content they feel individual players need to work on. Within a supportive and digital environment, coaches might be able to set goals and objectives for the group and could potentially instil a competitive and diligent commitment to the drills that is so often lacking in junior players.

Players at NPL will find great challenges in maintaining fitness levels during the hiatus, with many young players no doubt living in high density situations with partners and young children. At a professional level, the AFL and NRL have set about the task of outlining fitness programs for their players that are adaptable to both indoor and outdoor environments. No doubt, the A-League will be following suit as we speak.

Many of the AFL players spoken to appeared at a loss as to how they would maintain fitness and skill levels without the expensive and vast resources of the football club to which they below. For NPL players it will be even more difficult, with the now closed local gyms the most common place for them to develop and maintain physical condition.

All NPL clubs need to establish a digital forum that includes the players, support staff and coaches in order to be pro-active during what appears likely to be an extended period away from the game. Once again, that sense of collegiality would be emotionally beneficial and with performance targets in place, the incentive to work collectively could potentially avoid any apathy that may occur in isolation.

The successful E-League concept should be immediately expanded with A and W League players engaged in play. A handful of players from each club with some X-BOX or PlayStation experience could be enlisted to play brief matches live on line, with the games streamed for fans to view via the club’s Facebook pages and the official A-League site.

The banter and enjoyment provided by what would no doubt be a comical yet also potentially competitive competition would further engage young fans and continue the objective of keeping the football community connected at this difficult time.

NPL New South Wales’ Facebook page is leading the way with lateral and creative thinking, already posting classic NPL matches for fans to view. The newly launched NPL.TV offers further potential in terms of streamed content and interaction and the National Premier Leagues’ #PlayAtHomeChallenge is a fun initiative that many players will be drawn to.

There is an emotional component to what all professional sport is about to encounter in Australia and monitoring and measuring that will prove difficult. The mind is fundamentally more important than the body and ensuring our football communities remain connected, active and positive is vitally important as most of us enter a period of isolation thanks to COVID-19.

Brisbane City Council waives lease fees for football clubs

Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner has announced Brisbane City Council will waive all charges, rents, levies and permit fees for all businesses as they face economic problems caused by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lease fees for community organisations will also be waived, which includes grassroots football clubs.

In the next three months, fees and charges will be waived for businesses and lessees as part of the $7.9 million business relief package.

“This is about protecting jobs and community organisations, not just the livelihood of business owners,” Cr Schrinner said.

“We will reassess the policy once we know the true impacts on the Brisbane economy and workforce after 30 June. Also, anyone who has just paid any one of the fees since 1 March will be given special dispensation.”

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