Football Victoria’s decision to cancel Season 2021 without promotion and relegation is facing a considerable challenge from over 40 Victorian clubs.
Under the banner of United Football, more than 40 clubs have joined forces to challenge the decision to suspend promotion and relegation in men’s and women’s competitions in Victoria, following the cancellation of the season.
Football Victoria announced the cancellation of the remainder of the season in Metropolitan Melbourne on September 3 2021, in which it also revealed that promotion and relegation would not proceed.
The decision has stirred controversy in the Victorian football community, with a number of clubs who were in the mix for promotion now believing that their efforts have ultimately been wasted.
The United Football Group of Clubs (United Football) represents more than 40 clubs from the top-tier of National Premier Leagues Victoria, right down to State League Five and is advocating that clubs who worked hard to put themselves into promotion contention across men’s and women’s divisions deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.
United Football Chairperson Zak Gruevski, former President of Preston Lions, believes that the clubs are disappointed that promotion has been taken off the table.
“As clubs, we simply can’t tolerate this anymore,” Gruevski told Soccerscene.
“We invest money into our clubs, we work hard to create an environment that leads to success and in the context of a completely lost 2020, to not reward the clubs that have been ambitious in 2021 is not acceptable.
“Our own governing bodies want us to improve as clubs. Football Australia and Football Victoria have set out plans for the growth of their top-flight competitions, so clubs that have invested and improved themselves should be rewarded for that effort, especially with almost two-thirds of the season played.”
“The Football Australia Performance Gap recommends expanded NPL competitions that allow for 30 games per season, so this isn’t just us making things up as we go along to suit a few vocal clubs. Promotion is an important part of the game achieving its competitive and developmental aims.”
United Football has now held several meetings with concerned clubs, and last week delivered a written submission to the Football Victoria board that argues clubs have been misled and that Football Victoria did not adequately prepare for a range of COVID-19 related scenarios, particularly given the cancellation of the 2020 season.
Whilst the clubs acknowledge the cancellation of the season is in light of prolonged, ongoing lockdowns in Victoria, they strongly believe that promotion and relegation was consistently communicated as going ahead, even as late as August 9, 2021 and that promotion – at the very least – should still be honoured.
“You could see from a mile away that the season was going to be affected by COVID,” Gruevski said.
“Like most clubs, for the first few games of the season, all activities were. Checking in, managing numbers in and out of the ground, and as the season progressed that burden became heavier.
“Everyone experienced the effects of COVID in 2020. We lost a whole season and we came into this one with written commitments that promotion and relegation would exist for 2021.
“Even as late as August 2021, when clubs were provided the roadmap out of lockdown, promotion and relegation was still a live issue.
“The scene was set by Football Victoria as early as May 2020 with the release of their ‘Guiding Principles’, where the commitment was that as long as each team played each other once, that would constitute a season for promotion, relegation and prizemoney.
“That didn’t happen, but it didn’t happen because Football Victoria did not incorporate it into the rules of competition and then decided in between lockdowns to play the fixtures based on the calendar instead of the unfulfilled rounds, meaning some teams played each other twice and some didn’t play at all.
“Why, as clubs, should we have to pay for these mistakes? Why should we now have to recomplete an entire season?
“Football Victoria has confirmed that it wants to revise the rules of competition to avoid this happening in 2022, which we’re happy to work with them on, but it doesn’t solve the issue we face right now.”
Gruevski added United Football was also questioning the validity of Football Victoria’s decision, with clear precedent around the country to maintain promotion and relegation, or at the very least, complete a league restructure.
Capital Football decided to honour promotion and relegation despite the early cancellation of the season, whilst Football New South Wales decided to opt for a restructuring of its leagues in light of the cancellation of its competitions.
United Football has received commitments from more than 90% of its 40+ affiliated clubs to contribute to the costs associated with challenging this submission, and work has already progressed with the appointment of a legal team.
In addition to reviewing written material issued by Football Victoria, United Football’s legal team worked on a written submission, which was delivered to Football Victoria on behalf of the clubs on Monday September 20.
The submission, sighted by Soccerscene, notes the group’s commitment to try and amicably resolve the issue with Football Victoria and presents three options for the state governing body to consider:
- Promotion and Recognition of Champions based on current standings or points per matches played method, with or without relegation.
- Restructure of the leagues to achieve the desired effect of promotion/relegation, completed in line with the 2021 Football Australia Performance Gap Report.
- Align with Football Victoria principles and fixture the outstanding games between teams who have not played against each other to complete the season and award promotion and relegation. Given the current COVID situation, it is recognised that this may be the least likely scenario.
Gruevski has had confirmation that the submission had been received and was discussed at Football Victoria’s most recent board meeting and is being reconsidered at an extraordinary meeting being held this week.
“I am satisfied that Football Victoria has heard our concerns and are taking steps to give this further consideration,” he said.
“But the clubs have been very firm with me and in turn our legal team. If we don’t hear back this week, the Group is determined to then proceed with other options. The Group has reserved its rights to pursue all avenues to reach a satisfactory resolution to the matter.
“One thing is clear; this issue is not going to go away.”