Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Australians enjoy what is sometimes referred to as the ‘beautiful game’ – soccer.
In 2002 I was appointed to the Independent Soccer Review Committee, established by then sports minister Rod Kemp, to investigate and report on well-documented issues affecting the sports’ management and culture in Australia.
Far from beautiful
What our committee found (detailed in the 2003 Crawford Report – named after businessman and chair David Crawford) was far from beautiful.
Around this time the ABC’s Four Corners program identified conflicts of interest at the highest echelons of the game’s national governing body, Soccer Australia, which was on the verge of bankruptcy with debts to the tune of $2.6 million.
It also found that the national team, the Socceroos, was unable to qualify for the FIFA World Cup or the FIFA Confederations Cup, which was unacceptable to Australians who pride themselves on punching above their weight on the international sporting stage.
Like Australia itself, Soccer Australia evolved as a national body after the creation of individual state bodies, which created classic federalism issues and some states were reluctant to give control to the national body.
Any fix was not going to be easy, but the Federal Government had handed us a very big stick: the threat of withdrawing funding if changes were not made.
Consultation was the key
Committee member Johnny Warren (former Socceroo and commentator) had the gravitas within the soccer community to help guide the process.
Given that any solution to the malaise in the sport had to be passed through the existing structure and constitution, consultation was the key.
We consulted with hundreds of stakeholders around the country, explaining the seriousness of the situation to the people who volunteered their time to the game they loved.
Anyone could make a submission, which also enabled us to identify the various stakeholders that had been disenfranchised such as women and referees.
We identified the need for governance structures capable of dealing with the day-to-day running of the game, but which also had the scope to address strategic, structural and constitutional reforms necessary to improve it in the future.
We recommended that each state’s constitution be consistent with that of the new national body, Football Federation Australia (FFA).
We put in place board structures to ensure independence in board members who were able to act in the best interests of the game as a whole.
We recommended changes to membership and voting structures at national and state levels to include all stakeholders, and separated the governance of the sport from the day-to-day operational management.
The FFA board was to be free of conflicts of interest and a partisan state and territory mentality: a truly independent, solutions-based board of management, willing and able to act in the best interests of the game as a whole in Australia.
We wanted to ensure also that the board be chaired by someone who was highly regarded within the community, beyond reproach and able to ensure the recommendations were enacted.
Enter respected businessman and prominent Australian, Frank Lowy.
Despite the pain involved, the recommendations were ultimately accepted and I strongly believe Australian soccer is where it is today due to the hard work put in by the players, fans and administrators that all helped to implement the committee’s recommendations.
We have a viable and competitive national competition, our national team has qualified for the past two FIFA World Cup’s and grassroots participants have a real say in the direction of the game.
Good governance and management does make a difference!
Kate Costello is the founder of Governance Matters.
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