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Why Australian football needs a promotion/relegation system to survive

Promotion and relegation is one of the few constants in nearly every single soccer country across the globe. It makes the sport unique and it gives each team something to play for each season. It also makes it one of the most cutthroat sports on the planet. Why is that? Well, to prove this statement, let’s take a look at the Australian Football League.

Teams will often rise up and drop down the ladder over the years, with no club recognised as the club to beat every year (like Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United). It’s much more of a lottery. Yes, coaches, players, fans etc. would suffer as a result of a club doing poorly. But unlike soccer leagues across the world, there’s no punishment for poor performance. If you finish bottom of the ladder, you get rewarded with the number one draft pick.

The system works but imagine if the same system was implemented for a soccer competition. Would it work as well as it does in the AFL? The answer is simple, no.

For starters, fans wouldn’t be as invested as we see in the European leagues. Even if their club is fighting off relegation, fans will come in droves to cheer them on. In Australia’s A-League, if a club is struggling, you’ll very rarely see packed out stadiums.

The league itself would feel like it was coming off a conveyer belt each season. It would be the same teams, the same stadiums and the same league each season. Again, we see this in the A-League, but they also have the FFA Cup and there are new teams entering the competition, starting with Western United next season.

These two factors are what makes the European leagues so successful. Who would’ve thought that Bournemouth, a club that not too long ago was non-league, would now be a mainstay in English football? What about how Huddersfield Town, who despite already being relegated this season, would’ve had the season from heaven to get promoted to the top flight.

It’s the beauty of European soccer, that there are the big teams that have been the benchmarks for so long as well as the battlers who scrap their way through the divisions.

This is where the A-League is losing so much potential to create a strong, multi league soccer country that is outside of Europe. FFA Chairman Chris Nikou recently suggested that promotion and relegation may not enter Australian soccer for up to 15 years, a suggestion that could harm the sport’s future in the country.

 

Soccer has grown exponentially in the last few seasons in this country, especially at the community and grassroots levels. Junior participation is at an all time high and interest in the National Premier Leagues across the states has never been greater. If anything, the next few seasons would appear to be the perfect time to implement some sort of promotion/relegation system.

The FFA, in refusing to create a system, is neglecting the people that have madder soccer in this country what it is today. Those at the grassroots and community levels are the heart and soul of Australian soccer and have been ever since the early NSL days. Clubs such as South Melbourne and the Melbourne Knights defined Australian soccer for decades and now, when they, along with a host of other clubs want to change soccer for the better, the FFA neglects them.

The FFA should take a leaf out of European leagues books, but sometimes the evidence is right in front of them. In the last two seasons, the NPL in Victoria has seen some crazy final days and some clubs in promotion and relegation fights that are simply unbelievable.

In 2017, the Melbourne Knights struggled and finished third last on the table, entering the promotion/relegation playoff against Dandenong City. Despite winning 3-2, to see such a historic club almost leave the top flight was a massive surprise. 2018 however, was far more remarkable.

Green Gully are another revered NPLVIC side who have won titles in years gone by. They finished third last and entered the promotion/relegation match against Moreland City. They were down 2-0 in the 90th minute and looked a certainty to be relegated.

But through sheer force of will, they scored two quick goals, sent the game to extra time and scored a late winner to secure safety in the top flight. That level of drama has never been seen before at the NPL level and if the FFA could open their eyes to the possibilities a pro/rel system would create up, we could see it in the A-League.

Instead of going through the motions, every A-League season could have extra meaning with clubs knowing that there is always something on the line. Because in recent seasons, the desire from players, clubs and officials behind the scenes appears to have been non-existent.

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

Bundesliga looks to become the first sustainable league in the world – will Australia follow?

The German Football League (DFL), the body which governs the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, recently outlined their ambitions to become the world’s first carbon neutral domestic football leagues.

On August 19, the DFL announced that clubs would take a vote in December of this year on whether to include environmental sustainability as a part of its licensing requirements.

Environmental sustainability has been placed at the forefront of the DFL’s objectives over the past six months, through their Taskforce for the Future of Professional Football.

The taskforce, which is made up of 36 business, sport and political experts also looks to focus their energy on other topics such as financial stability, communication with fans and supporting the growth of the professional women’s game.

“This is only the first step of a marathon,” Christian Pfennig, member of the DFL management board, explained to Forbes.

“Our goal is to anchor sustainability oriented to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as another key factor in our licensing program by 2022/23. Then the following year, we want to introduce incentives, but also sanctions should a club fail to meet the minimum criteria.”

The criteria itself will be finalised with external experts in the coming weeks and months.

Multiple German clubs have been extremely well received for their commitment to sustainability over the years.

Wolfsburg, who are currently first in the Bundesliga this season, were ranked the most environmentally sustainable club earlier this year in a report conducted by Sport Positive.

The report highlighted Wolfsburg’s dedication to using 100 per cent green energy across the club by using bioplastic cups and for ensuring zero landfill waste, whilst offering vegan options at their stadium on game-day. The club’s website also contains a corporate responsibility page with information about climate protection and environmental initiatives, as they plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Freiburg have used solar energy at their Schwarzwald-Stadion since 1993, with their new stadium to follow suit when it opens in October. The new facility will also have green energy storage and plug-in charging stations.

In 2010, Mainz became the Bundesliga’s and one of the world’s first carbon neutral football clubs.

These promising examples and many others have generally been taken individually , but the DFL now wants to centralise its approach to sustainability.

“The most important step now is to create a framework for the different clubs that are part of the DFL, from a Champions League participant to teams promoted from the third division,” Pfennig said.

It’s a significant task, but the DFL believe they have to play a role in pursuing the best practices in tackling social issues, but they keep a realistic head in their objectives.

“There is no ideal world or ideal football, Pfennig said.

“We are aware that we will have to adjust our goals, also taking into account the background of an enormous change in all areas of life. That’s why we need a framework and always work in improving our goals.”

The centralised method has been successful for the implementation of other initiatives such as Supporter Liaison Officer’s (SLOs) and improvement of youth academies.

These works, which are part of the DFL’s licensing framework, have been copied by other countries around the world and Australia should be keeping a keen eye on them.

While looking to Germany may be a good guide for improving fan to club relations and youth academy developments, they should especially look to follow their upcoming sustainability guidelines.

Australian clubs should be further focusing on improving their efforts towards sustainability, in a country which generally fails to meet any of those types of objectives.

It may be a difficult initial transition but clubs will eventually benefit from this push in the years to come.

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