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

K-League’s beneficial partnership with La Liga: A blueprint for the A-League?

Late last year, the Korean K-League and Spain’s La Liga signed an MOU to advance the collaboration and communication between both leagues and mutually grow their competitions.

At the time of the announcement of the three-year partnership, matters that the two leagues were set to focus on included the development of sport projects, different training programs, addressing anti-piracy issues and creating an economic control mechanism for the K-League and its clubs.

Since last December, the leagues have conducted a wide range of joint workshops and campaigns on these different agenda items.

For example, La Liga has offered multiple training sessions to coaches and K-League staff based on the experience of the La Liga Sports Projects team in their initiatives across the globe. These sessions are held virtually (with a scope to return to face-to-face if COVID allows) with Spanish clubs such as Valencia CF and Elche participating in them, and is set to continue deep into the 2021/22 season.

Similarly to what has been done with coaching education, both leagues have held virtual training conferences on financial control to ensure the viability and long term growth of the K-League and its teams. Using an offline format, a mechanism which has allowed La Liga clubs to reduce their debt from €650 million in 2013 to €23 million in 2020 will also be explained this coming season.

A prominent area which the two leagues looked to address in the initial months of the agreement was the fight against audio-visual piracy. The K-League have launched the “Protect K-League” campaign and alongside the technological advancements developed by La Liga’s anti-piracy branch, this seems to be a high priority for the two competitions.

The eSports field will also be targeted in the coming months, with the K-League and La Liga to carry out joint projects and activations. Both countries have seen the importance of the gaming world and have grown significantly in this sector in recent years.

Yeon Sang Cho, general secretary of the K-League, spoke about the advantages of the arrangement with La Liga.

“Since the signing of the agreement last December we have seen how our relationship with La Liga has gone from strength to strength and how we have worked together to overcome such a difficult situation,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“We are impressed with La Liga’s commitment.

“Thanks to it we have been able to adapt to the limitations imposed by the pandemic; carry out virtual training meetings for K-League coaches and their clubs; and also an in-depth analysis of economic control mechanisms, which are key to creating a sustainable professional football industry. Here at the K-League we are very happy with the progress of the relationship and we look forward to a future where these ties become even stronger.”

Sangwon Seo, La Liga’s delegate in South Korea, spoke of the early success of the partnership.

“For us at La Liga it is a great source of pride to be able to count on such an important ally as the K-League and to share our knowledge and experience with them,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“These first months since the MOU was signed have been very productive and we have experienced a very enriching exchange of knowledge that has allowed us to move forward despite the global pandemic.

“At La Liga we face this season with great enthusiasm, and a desire to deepen our relationship with the K League and to bring our joint projects to fruition.”

It’s a great move for the K-League to improve their operations through help from one of the world’s top leagues, something which the A-League should envy.

Because of initiatives like this they are setting their clubs up financially for the long-term future and accessing training methods that are of a world class standard.

The A-League should be looking at this example of the collaboration between these two leagues if they want to become a more prominent competition in Asia.

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.

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