Yesterday, outgoing PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab made a short speech to the players, media and guests assembled in Brisbane for the 2011/12 PFA Alex Tobin OAM and Footballer of the Year Awards. He was introduced by former PFA President Alex Tobin, together with Greg Brown, KimonTaliadoros and Simon Colosimo, the 3 other players to serve as President since the PFA’s establishment in 1993.

Thank you Alex. And also to Greg, Kimon and Simon for your work as PFA Presidents.  You have all made a magnificent contribution to the wellbeing of your fellow professionals and the game.

It is an immense honour to have represented Australia’s professional footballers for so long.

Like our game as a whole, the players pursue a powerful dream – that we, as Australians, can achieve on the world stage in what is undoubtedly the world’s biggest and most competitive sport.  That dream – to transform a great sporting nation into a great football nation – is what unites us.

In so doing, Australia’s professional footballers – the members of the PFA – set a magnificent example.  The strength of their mentality and skill shows us all what is required to attain excellence.  They sincerely understand their responsibilities to all of football’s stakeholders and the broader community.

The fact that football – unlike other football codes in this country – has not suffered the same damage due to athlete misbehaviour says as much about the character of the players as it does about how competitive our game is.

The fact is, if you take a wrong turn as a professional footballer, the mistake can be career ending.

I would like to acknowledge the Socceroos captains who have set this standard and who I have worked with, especially on CBA negotiations – Paul Wade, Alex, Paul Okon, Mark Viduka and, of course, Lucas Neill, who led the Socceroos magnificently again last night.

I must acknowledge long-serving PFA Chairman, John Poulakakis, the architect of much of the PFA’s key commercial, community and strategic work, including our plan to reform the game a decade ago.  Also some key staff members over the years: John Didulica, Laura Sigal, James Johnson, Will Hastie and Shannon Beck.

I would also like to thank the PFA’s partners.  Woolworths, Open Universities Australia, Pele Sports and especially LUCRF Super, who, together with Adecco, make today’s function possible.

In addition to always being a top quartile industry super fund, LUCRF Super CEO Greg Sword runs a fund that shares the PFA’s dedication to human rights.  As part of this, LUCRF Super requires Australia’s top 200 companies to have a stated policy on human rights and labour standards, and monitors their compliance with those standards.  Adecco CEO Jeff Doyle is not only a member of the Board of LUCRF Super, but, as Murray Shaw explained, a former pro in England and Australia and a most welcome member of our family.

The PFA is run by players for players – but our mission is equally about the advancement of the game.

48 players have served on the PFA Executive Committee since 1993 and the list reads like a who’s who of the game: Tobin, Farina, Cahill, Kewell, Foster, Kosmina, Muscat, Aloisi, Aloisi (yes, there are 2), Crino, Covic, Hunter, Grella, Harper, to name a few.  Yesterday, Bruce Djite joined this famous list.

Hundreds of players have served as PFA Delegates, which is a tough job.  Joel Porter’s work in supporting the players at Gold Coast Utd this year is unheralded but simply essential.  Thank you Joel.

We may today laugh at the video of a long hairedKimonTaliadoros calling for an independent inquiry into Australian soccer’s player transfers in 1994.  Then arguably Australia’s best forward and part-time PFA CEO, Kimon’s call led to:

  • A 4 Corners program
    • An inquiry conducted by former NSW Supreme Court Justice Stewart
    • A Senate inquiry
    • A major legal victory for the players – our Bosman ruling

This led to our 1st CBA in 1996 for the NSL and by 1999 a part-time sport had been transformed into a fully professional one.

Today, we have 4 major CBAs – a whole of game MOU with FFA and CBAs for the Socceroos, A-League players and the Matildas.  Despite what some say, we enjoy an effective relationship with FFA and I would like to thank FFA CEO Ben Buckley and Head of National Teams John Boultbee for their cooperation.

Collective bargaining is of course just part of what we do.

Each year, we conduct about 160 matters for players individually, education and development programs, the PFA Education and Special Assistance Fund and the PFA Heroes Community program.  We are also key contributors to FIFPro – the world players’ union – especially in Asia.

Our best work however has been as much for the game as it has the players.

The fact is administrative decision-making impacts player wellbeing more than any other factor.

This is why we called for a new league in 2002 and why we see the wellbeing of the game as falling squarely within our mandate.

Today, FFA and the A-League are addressing the right questions:

  • The 10 teams are largely in the key markets and must succeed
    • We have to build great clubs and their brands
    • Football must own atmosphere
    • Stadium economics are key
    • Community engagement is fundamental

These are all pillars the PFA called for in 2003 together with, of course, the quality of play.

The quality of play depends both on the players and the security and attractiveness of their work environment.

At a time when most are applauding the on-field quality of play, the PFA has been defending a vigorous and misinformed campaign to cut player payments and entitlements.

This is so wrong.

The PFA is a responsible partner in the game which will continue to agree to cap player earnings provided 3 simple conditions are met:

  1. The players receive a fair share of game revenue
    2. The game invests meaningfully in the education and development of players, so that players can make better career decisions in what is a complex football world, and prepare for life after football
    3. Basic rights – such as contract security and protection when injured – are respected

With a new CBA months away, the game must ask itself what kind of profession are we trying to create in this country?

The game can either respect the rights of players and we can move forward together to compete with the other football codes at home and the rest of the football world abroad.

Or, we can be divided.

This is ultimately a question not only of player rights, but human rights.

The next part of my career will see me devote a lot of my time to FIFPro – the world footballers’ union.  As a FIFPro Board member, judge of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber and Chairman of FIFPro Asia, I have seen firsthand the fallout for players and the game in countries that don’t respect player rights and feel the players must pay the price for failed business decisions.

I am sure I will see a lot more of it.

But, we cannot see it in Australia, because we have a different values system and our country is just too competitive.

I will, as a lawyer, assist my successor as PFA Chief Executive, in the next round of collective bargaining.  It is the sincere hope of the players those talks will end the recent disputes over contract security, injury insurance and entitlements to compensation when sacked.

Before we rightfully turn our attention to mark the outstanding achievements of PFA members on the field in 2011/12, it is important we reflect on the work of the world’s player unions.

The last season saw 2 pivotal events for player rights.

The first was the successful strike in Spain to achieve contract security over outstanding player debts of €52.5 million.

The second was the publication of the FIFPro Black Book, which details the experiences of professional footballers in eastern and southern Europe.  Many young Australians have made their first steps into European football in that part of the world, and the PFA has assisted many of them in having their contracts respected and in receiving compensation.  I would like to share this vital part of FIFPro’s work with you.

Thank you.