What the future holds for futsal in Australia

The return of the National Futsal Championships is a huge boon, according to two people key to the development of the game within Australia.

Last month Football Australia announced the return of the National Futsal Championships, pitting states against each other in a tournament that has been on hiatus since the start of the pandemic.

The Futsalroos – the FIFA recognised national team for Australia – have competed at eight FIFA Futsal World Cups, and the game has a rich history and strong participation in Australia.

The 2019 National Participation Report, produced by Football Australia (FA), shows the game growing in participation by 36% – with 63,031 registered players. The National Futsal Championships will feature close to 1,000 participants from over 100 teams being involved from states and territories across the country.

James Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Football Australia, was pleased with the re-introduction of the National Futsal Championships and the reinvigoration of the F-League and looks forward to growing the futsal footprint in Australia.

“As part of our clear strategic agenda, we outlined a vision to create a national program for futsal and beach soccer by working closely with our Member Federations in a unified, inclusive and collaborative manner,” he said in a statement.

“With the culmination of this process, we are delighted that Football Queensland and Football Victoria will be hosting the National Futsal Championships in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

“There is a clear appetite throughout Australia for football to increase its imprint through futsal and beach soccer.  Queensland and Victoria now have the opportunity to showcase this and bring it to life over the next two years, in a way never seen before.”

The 2022 and 2023 Championships will be hosted in Queensland and Victoria respectively – two states that have embedded futsal within their overall organisational strategies.

Trevor Edwards, Head of Futsal at Football Queensland (FQ), is the tournament organiser for the 2022 National Futsal Championships. He believes that FQ is seeing success in futsal because they have linked it with their football strategy in the state.

“We see it as a game in itself, but also linked in with the entire football family,” Edwards told Soccerscene.

“We are looking to develop the F-League in Queensland into a conference style where we have northern, southern, and central competitions in the state. That might take a few years to get to, but that is our target for futsal.”

Anthony Grima, head of Futsal at Football Victoria (FV), explains that it is essential for Australian football to develop futsal alongside the 11 a side game.

“After the 2021 National Futsal Championships were cancelled due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on sport and the community, we needed to work together to regain momentum, and confirm hosts for the tournaments in 2022 and 2023 to ensure our community had a calendar they could work towards,” Grima said to Soccerscene.

“The tournament is the pinnacle event for Futsal in Australia and is the largest of Football Australia’s national tournaments.”

The National Futsal Championships is seen as a way to strengthen pathways for junior development, as well as grow the game within Australia.

“It is essential from a state perspective. We would like to see that continue and grow. In previous years since the national F-League became defunct, there hasn’t been a pathway for juniors to make the national selection for the Futsalroos. We’d love to see that pathway come back and develop,” Edwards said.

“Not just your pathway for national teams, but also pathways and processes for really strong grassroots participation, coach education, and referee education.”

The F-League, Australia’s last national futsal competition, ended in 2016. Grima thinks that a relaunched national futsal competition is vital to the development of the game in Australia.

“A National Futsal League is crucial for any country who wishes to participate and compete in international tournaments,” Grima said.

“In addition to the National Futsal Championships, state-based F-Leagues could potentially link up with a National Futsal League that links all the champions together and forms the pathway for both male and female players, coaches, and referees.”

In recent years, the small-sided game has been recognised for its ability to supplement player development for football and also increasingly as a sport in its own right.

In 2016, a game featuring legendary Brazilian Falcao and Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa drew a crowd of over 2,000 people in Melbourne.

With states collaborating towards a common goal, futsal will only continue to expand within Australia.

“There are many initiatives that we can plan to elevate futsal not just in Australia but on the world stage. It is clear that Football Australia, under the leadership of James Johnson, wants to grow the Futsal footprint in Australia,” Grima said.

“Futsal’s inclusion in the ‘XI Principles – for the future of Australian Football’ back in October outlined a vision to create a national program for futsal and beach soccer by working closely with the Member Federations in a unified, inclusive and collaborative manner.”

Edwards shared the same view as Grima towards growing the game.

“As a whole, we are excited as Member Federations to be involved in the development of futsal. We are excited with the collaboration that is happening, and I hope we can keep pushing the sport together so futsal continues to grow in this country,” Edwards said.

When the National Futsal Championships kicks off at the Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre on January 5, 2022, it will have the backing of the entire football landscape.

Those involved in the game are committed to see it be a grand return for the tournament, to ensure the continuing growth of the game is not only maintained, but expanded and elevated in the months and years to come.

Lawrie McKinna: A true survivor

Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.

After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.

When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.

In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.

It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.

Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL  match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.

It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.

Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.

In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?

LAWRIE McKINNA

When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.

The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.

If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.

However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.

R.S.

Do you think the right people are running the game?

L.M.

I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.

I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.

There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.

James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.

R.S.

Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.

Is this a satisfactory situation?

L.M.

This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.

However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.

R.S.

What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?

L.M.

The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.

We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.

At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.

R.S.

Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?

L.M.

There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.

Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.

R.S.

Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?

L.M.

Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.

There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.

At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.

Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.

There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.

R.S.

What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?

L.M.

Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.

At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.

The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.

We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.

Mitre extends with member federations to provide top quality footballs for all competitions

Mitre have extended their current deals with Football Victoria, Football West and Football NSW to continue providing their Ultimax Pro ball for competitions country wide.

Football Victoria announced that Mitre will continue as the exclusive NPL ball provider for the NPL and VPL competitions in 2024 with an option to extend into 2025.

In Football NSW, the sponsorship with Mitre will extend till the end of 2026. It will remain as the Official Match Ball of the National Premier Leagues NSW, Football NSW Leagues, Football NSW Youth Leagues, and Association Youth Leagues for a further three years.

Football West confirmed that Mitre will be the Official Ball Supplier for another three years, taking the partnership to a total of six years.

Trusted for over 200 years, Mitre footballs have been a foundation of the brand since the early 1900s. Since then, they have been the competition ball of choice for many football associations across the world.

In 2017, Mitre started inside the Australian footballing landscape when they were unveiled as the football partners of the then FFA Cup, now called the Australia Cup.

Since then, Mitre has expanded towards the state member federations to try and grow amongst the local community. They are the Official Match Ball of NPL NSW, NPL Victoria, NPL Queensland, Football West and NPL NNSW.

The Ultimax Pro is Mitre’s flagship Elite-Professional football that is used amongst state competitions and the Australia Cup. It features Hyperflow debossed grooves across the ball, for incredible flight consistency across all speeds. It is Engineered with Hyperfoam, a cushioned, high elastic foam, for maximum power when you strike.  It is also a FIFA Quality Pro approved football which proves that it maintains a top quality and standard.

Football Victoria Sponsorships and Events Manager, Paul Iliopoulos, outlined this is a ‘game changing partnership’ going into the 2024 season and beyond

“We are thrilled to announce a partnership between Football Victoria and MITRE as the official ball provider for our NPL and VPL competitions,” he said via FV.

“The MITRE ball is recognised for its superior quality and performance and this partnership reinforces Football Victoria’s dedication to maintaining the utmost standards in our competitions.

“As we embark on this exciting journey with MITRE, we extend our gratitude to the football community for their continued support.”

Football West General Manager of Football Perry Ielati was excited to continue with the high-quality footballs through this partnership.

“Football West is delighted to continue our partnership with Mitre. Our clubs know they can trust the quality of footballs provided by Mitre and that is hugely important to us. We are excited to move forward together over the next three years.” Ielati stated via Football West.

Football NSW CEO John Tsatsimas was thrilled to see Mitre extend as well.

“We’re delighted to continue the partnership with Mitre. We are anticipating another season of unprecedented success, and we eagerly look forward to achieving it in partnership with Mitre who will provide a great level of professionalism through their product as they have done so in recent years.” Tsatsimas said via Football NSW statement.

Mitre’s relationship with Football in Australia is fantastic for the game with the highest quality footballs being used at all different levels. Ball quality is an integral part of football and clubs from all federations will benefit from the discounted prices and free supplies that Mitre provide to improve the game.

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