By Paul Nicholson
December 1 – Steven Lowy, chairman of Football Federation Australia (FFA), has said that it would be “incredibly sad” if FIFA was to step in with a normalisation committee to run Australian football.
Speaking to Fox Sports he said: “Of course I’d be incredibly sad (if there was a takeover)… it would be a very sad day if FIFA or anyone else comes in, removed the board and basically removes the independence of the game.
“I think our game would suffer deeply. It would suffer reputationally with government, with corporate sponsors and with fans.”
But currently that looks like the most likely outcome after the FFA at its annual meeting this week failed to vote for reforms, demanded by FIFA and other stakeholders in the Australian game, that would widen the representation at the top level of Australian football.
The FFA has long been the fiefdom of the billionaire Lowy family who, for the most part, have ruled benevolently. The Australian professional game has grown and there are ambitious plans to grow grassroots The country successful hosted and ran the last AFC Cup to regional acclaim. The game is not beset by the corruption of other federations that are riddled with corruption and allegations of stolen money.
So the idea that FIFA needs to step in and tell the Australians how to organise themselves does seem disingenuous. But in Australia one of its greatest strengths has become its greatest weakness. The power and money of the Lowy influence over the board, no longer reflects the desires of the men’s professional game which says that it is massively under-represented on the 10-person Australian board seeing that generates 80% of the FFA’s money.
The clubs in the men’s A-League have been arguing for a greater share of the new TV deal that they say represents their contribution. The FFA says that money is need to grow the game across the board. That coupled with an historic FFA board structure that is clearly too narrow in its representation of the game in the country has created a perfect storm.
Lowy is right to be concerned about the reputational damage to the sport, but is also in a position to lead the way to a solution. “We believe we will be able to work with FIFA on sorting this out going forward,” he told Fox Sports. The FFA holds a members committee meeting next week which looks like the last opportunity to prevent FIFA stepping and taking control.
This will only happen if Lowy and his current board accept that greater reform than he has been proposing is inevitable. A negotiated reform is likely to result in a better result for his interests than an imposed one.
Even so, the club forces lined up against him have gathered strength and they have forced the issue upwards. Clubs representative Greg Griffin said Lowy, said after the annual meeting that Lowy had “lost the locker room”.
“The professional game voted against it, the two major states voted against it,” the Adelaide United chairman told local media. Once you lose the locker room in sport, it’s very difficult to get it back. I think it has to go to FIFA. It’s regrettable but that’s what it is.”
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