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Will Australia ever see the FFA Cup again?

A total of 765 football clubs had registered to compete in the 2020 FFA Cup, yet a recent decision to cancel the competition may well have put its future in doubt.

Football Federation Australia arrived at the necessary yet unfortunate decision last week whilst also announcing the cancelation of the NPL Finals series due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of the NPL Finals Series, the financial ramifications of the last six months will no doubt have played a major role in informing the move. Interstate travel appears an impossibility considering the losses in gate takings and sponsorship that each and every club across the country will have no doubt experienced in 2020.

A return to NPL play may well see the clubs delve even further into the red as running costs continue to remain higher than the meagre amounts being accumulated in sponsorship revenue and match day takings.

As for the FFA Cup, financial considerations will also have played a role in the decision, yet the sheer logistics of the competition and the time now available to complete it must surely have proven the final nail in the coffin when it came to FFA’s announcement.

The preliminary rounds slated for early 2020 were obliterated by the pandemic and many teams would normally have been eliminated by this stage of the calendar year. With a frantic month of A-League action now upon us in an effort to complete a season that has stretched for near ten months and NPL play ramping up as we speak, the chances of cramming cup, NPL and A-League into the most chaotic of schedules and crowning champions in all three by Christmas, appears something of an impossible task.

Sadly, the 7th edition of Australia’s much loved and long awaited cup competition has been necessarily torpedoed by the governing body. More concerning are real fears that it may be the last we have seen of it.

The FFA Cup brought something unique to the domestic game and provided Australian fans with a basic tenant of football so longed for and domestically absent. All over the world, league competitions pause frequently, as both minnows and heavy hitters take their chances in knockout play in an attempt to raise their respective nation’s cup trophy.

Such a moment says nothing about consistency, staying the course or a clubs’ dominance in home and away play. Cup competition is all about the moment and the ability to seize one, particularly when teams from lower divisions force their way into the later stages and seek to scare the heck out of their top tier rivals.

Thus the phrase, ‘cupset’.

Despite Australia’s cup having never left the hands of the A-League clubs, the competition is structured in such a way that a lower tiered team always features in the final four. In much the same way that EPL teams are kept away from each other in England’s FA Cup, Australia’s elite clubs do not meet until the late rounds, with NPL clubs in full training and competition given the chance to knock off their fancied rivals who are still to build into top form during their pre-season.

Most years, the ‘cupset’ plays out.

With suburban grounds hosting matches in mid-winter conditions, the atmosphere of the FFA Cup is both unique and inspiring. Traditional clubs draw considerable support from their communities and the subsequent lift in performance of the semi-professional teams has been evident on many occasions during the competitions’ short but impressive history.

Without stern determination to ensure its survival and return, the FFA Cup may well be another in a long line of victims that the coronavirus takes in 2020.

The cold reality for NPL clubs in a post pandemic world will be financial struggle. The sponsorship and investment challenges mentioned above will remain evident for some time, with many clubs having been openly keen to cancel the 2020 NPL season for fears of only worsening their precarious financial position.

Similar headaches lie ahead for FFA, with a newly signed Fox Sports broadcast deal destined only to cover A and W League play, Socceroo World Cup qualifiers and friendlies, as well as friendly matches involving the Matildas.

As such, those cold winter nights with televised FFA Cup play and live reports from the other fixtures taking place around the country appear gone. Fox obviously saw little return on their investment and have dropped the cup competition as they lessen their overall financial commitment to football.

Whilst many will cite the FFA’s need to take over the production costs of the domestic game and potentially on-sell content to Foxtel, Kayo Sport and potentially other providers, such an endeavour is challenging, long term and involves considerable financial investment.

Doing so in an effort to spark the A and W League may be a fair objective, however, the logistics and expense in attempting to produce the FFA Cup in-house, may well be a bridge too far, especially considering the remote locations that often play host to important matches.

In its official press release FFA expressed a clear desire to bring back #themagicofthecup in 2021, yet despite its best intentions, the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may well make such a return near impossible.

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AFC reveals logo for the 2023 Asian Cup tournament

Asian Cup

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), together with the Local Organising Committee (LOC), have confirmed the logo for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

The logo was revealed via a dazzling and immersive display that showcased the vibrant new design through projection mapping and Augmented Reality, as well as being projected on select iconic buildings across Shanghai’s skyline.

The launch, which was staged at the competition’s first completed stadium – Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium – also revealed the Host City logos in the first on-ground milestone event of the tournament, which will be held from June 16 to July 16, 2023.

The 18th edition of the tournament will see the Socceroos hoping to improve on their quarter-final loss to the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

In a special video message presented during the event, the AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa made the following statement:

“Over the years, each host nation has left a significant mark on Asian football, and we know that China PR will stage our greatest ever tournament in 2023.

“The AFC is pleased to mark our latest milestones and, on behalf of the Asian football family, I would like to congratulate the Local Organising Committee and the Venue Organising Committees of the 10 host cities for their commitment and efforts.

“The LOC continues to make great progress with the preparations to stage a memorable event, and I wish the Chinese Football Association, the LOC, the VOCs and all our stakeholders the very best of success in staging a truly world-class event.”

The 10 dynamic beams in the logo, which emanate from the bottom to form the image of the sun rising from the East, symbolise all the host cities of the AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ – underlining the ever-growing scale and future legacy of the tournament, which will be held in 10 different cities in one nation for the first time in Asian football history.

The process of localising the design and concept, in line with the master brands, was further influenced by the LOC’s proposal to embody ‘Light’ as a symbol and beacon of hope to overcome adversity, particularly pertinent during these challenging times and aptly emphasising the unifying force of Asia’s flagship men’s tournament in rallying together passionate fans and teams from the world’s most diverse continent.

Is the A-League prepared for sportswashing?

With Premier League clubs being used to rehabilitate reputations for foreign entities, could the same happen in the A-League?

This month, Newcastle United became the richest club in world football – due solely to majority ownership by the Saudi Arabian Foreign Wealth Fund. With Premier League clubs being used to rehabilitate reputations for foreign entities, could the same happen in the A-League?

World football has a problem with ‘sportswashing’ – which the Macmillan dictionary defines as “when a corrupt or tyrannical regime uses sport to enhance its reputation” – as exemplified by the purchase of Newcastle United by the investment arm of the Saudi Arabian government.

This same government assassinated journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkish consul in 2019, and now they have been allowed to purchase a football club in the world’s most-watched sporting league to rehabilitate their reputation on the world stage.

The World Cup in Qatar might be the biggest sportswashing event of all. The host nation of the 2022 tournament has a horrid reputation with human rights abuse, and over 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country since the World Cup was announced, with the total number likely significantly higher.

Countries like Australia will have no qualms sending their national teams – helping legitimise Qatar on the world stage and sportswashing away the human rights abuse and death toll that the event has created.

Australian football – and the A-League – will face a reckoning with sportswashing in the future, the question is how can it be combated?

Australian football has fought its fights against possibly malicious owners, both domestically and foreign. Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler promised the world, but left the Gold Coast without a club – and the Newcastle Jets penniless respectively.

Clive Palmer left Gold Coast United in ruin.

Foreign owners have also done their damage. On January 4, 2021, Martin Lee’s ownership of the Jets was terminated after he failed to inject any money into the club since October 2019, while also failing to pay any of the club’s debts.

ABC’s Four Corners revealed a director – Joko Driyono – for the company that owns the Brisbane Roar with the Bakrie family – was jailed for 18 months for match-fixing Indonesian football matches.

According to Indonesian business records, he remains the president director of Pelita Jaya Cronus, the holding company for Brisbane Roar.

Joko Driyono, director of Brisbane Roar’s holding company, spent 18 months in jail for match-fixing.

Does the ownership model of the A-League create accountability for owners, and do Australia’s corporate regulators do enough to ensure that malicious owners can’t drive clubs into the ground for personal profit or gain?

Take the Martin Lee example. Under the current franchise model of the A-League, he has no personal liability for the debt accrued by his ownership, and faced no repercussions for running the club into the ground before the A-League took back the license.

Former Newcastle Jets owner Martin Lee was forced to hand back the club’s license.

He simply abandoned the club after it was no longer of use to his business interests in Australia, and returned to his home country.

The A-League must avoid this as an example, while also ensuring that promises of rich domestic benefactors are balanced against the likelihood that it could be too good to be true.

The current franchise model does have its advantages, in regards to the Australian Professional Leagues having the power to take back the license of a runaway club like in the case of Clive Palmer’s Gold Coast United, or when an owner fails to inject money like Martin Lee.

Currently, the vast majority of NPL clubs are run by a board of directors who are personally liable if funds go missing, or the club goes into severe debt.

Melbourne Victory is the only publicly listed company in the A-League, and that ownership model brings responsibility to shareholders and liability for directors.

Foreign investment at the A-League is at an all-time high, with five of the 12 clubs being either foreign-owned or controlled.

One club, Adelaide United, has its ownership completely hidden from the public. The Australian footballing community currently has no idea who finances the only professional club in South Australia.

A transparent fit and fairness test must be implemented for A-League ownership, one that keeps potential malicious actors away from the game, while protecting fans and clubs.

One way to achieve this would be to ask corporate regulators to take a more hands-on approach with A-League entities during the purchasing of a license.

The downside of this approach would be that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is capable of auditing companies’ finances, but foreign entities like Martin Lee’s businesses and Pelita Jaya Cronus can easily circumvent scrutiny.

Personal liability for owners and directors would force them to create sustainable businesses. While it might scare away some bad investors, those with good intentions will embrace the concept of a more stable A-League.

Another way to combat sportswashing would be to introduce the truly membership-based model championed by clubs in Germany.

The 50+1 model means that the majority of the club must be owned by local fans of the clubs, and if this was pursued in the A-League it would grant huge protections against owners who don’t act in the best intentions for the club long-term.

The Australian Professional Leagues need to ensure that those who want to invest in Australian football are doing so for the right reasons, instead of purely personal gain.

A true fit and fairness test, one that examines whether the owner is financially, ethically, and morally capable of owning an A-League team (or second division team) with the utmost accountability will be one of the best investment’s the APL can make for Australian football.

Without it, it will be a wild wasteland of Palmers, Tinklers, and Lees for years to come.

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