PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab spoke to Craig Foster this week about the key issues impacting Australian football. Read on for the article in full.
The full article from Craig’s column in The Sydney Morning Herald is below.

Important questions have been raised, or exposed, about Football Federation Australia that mirror long-term concerns in the football community.

These relate to governance, strategy, decision making, organisational culture, the relationship of the board to current events, the exit or dismissal of key executives during the past year, the World Cup bid and its impact on the game locally, and the health and future, in cases such as the Jets and of the A-League.

These are vital issues to be discussed that all fans are concerned about. Fans own the game and have a right to question FFA, be that the chairman Frank Lowy or FFA management, over every aspect of the way it is administered.

We are all united in wanting football to succeed but identifying the obvious is one thing, getting to the root causes and solutions another.

Seeking clarity on the state of the game, I asked Brendan Schwab, chief executive of Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), to shed some light on the key areas where the game is vulnerable.

He chose to focus on two: the failure to properly implement the Crawford report, and A-League structure and model.

Schwab’s analysis

”Australian football is at its most challenging time in history. Fundamental pillars of the game’s reform effort are eroding. Without quick and profound change, our game may not get a second chance, particularly as other football codes are cashed up, strategically savvy and more aware of the threat of football than ever before.”

The Crawford report

”Two documents – extensively researched with government and players’ money – gave FFA chairman Frank Lowy his blueprint in 2003 – the Crawford and NSL Task Force reports.

”The late Johnny Warren shaped both reports. The emotional power of football ran right through them. They were about building a football nation, knowing that the legacy will be for the children of today’s football devotees. However, neither report has been implemented, and in that lies the seeds of the game’s discontent.

”Crawford’s recommendations demanded that FFA be run by an independent yet accountable board. The A-League would be separate; run under licence from FFA by its own independent board accountable to the clubs. The two bodies would co-operate to collectively exploit the game’s key commercial assets from the professional game.

”All state and territory federations would be overhauled along the same principles to build the game from the grassroots up.

”The failure of some states, most notably New South Wales, to embrace the Crawford reforms has had a profound impact. Football’s community remains alienated and fragmented, especially after being branded as “old soccer”.

”Falling A-League crowds and financial problems have many worried about the viability of a league that is the cornerstone of the game’s development.

”Quality is not the issue. The playing standard has been acknowledged by many former greats as being at its highest point since the inception of the league. Nor are player payments too high. Total Socceroos and A-League player payments account for less than 30 per cent of the game’s revenues, just like cricket, NRL, AFL and rugby.

”It is also wrong to assume crowds had to dip. According to [brand analysts] Repucom, 51 per cent of football’s massively growing fan base is ‘avid’. Football is also a sport of the future, with the youngest fan base of Australia’s major sports.

”Football is simply failing to fulfil its primary obligation – to convert football fans into participants, crowds and television audiences.

”The NSL Task Force revealed that about 2.5 million fans would support an 8- to 10-team A-League. Regular TV audiences of one million on free-to-air TV were possible. Average crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 were realistic.

”It wouldn’t be easy, though. The league had to be properly capitalised and positioned. The strategic location of the teams was essential. New clubs, quality players, community partnerships, effective marketing and football’s unique atmosphere would then deliver the commercial revenues through fan support.

”However, rugby’s one-team-per-city model prevailed under the protection of a five-year moratorium.

”The game’s heartland – western Sydney, with twice as many registered footballers than rugby league – was rejected. Whilst the value of the league’s rights required two Melbourne teams (a game every week), only one was installed.

”Despite the predicted crowds and atmosphere being a strategic imperative, key clubs were allowed to commit to big stadia. Gate receipts haven’t covered expenses.

”The opportunity to deliver grassroots programs such as small-sided games through the brands of the A-League clubs to better connect the professional game with its heartland was, and is being missed.

”FFA’s governance model favours centralisation, including of the game’s commercial rights. It must tfore give the clubs marketing support, linkages with the grassroots and a financial dividend.

”Yet, the annual dividend has not increased since 2007, and FFA has added about $1 million to the cost base of the clubs, which were already under financial pressure. The FFA club dividend has fallen to less than 50 per cent of the salary cap, the lowest of any major sport in Australia [the AFL pays 77 per cent, the NRL 71 per cent].

”The same capital-driven approach of the old NSL, in driving expansion into North Queensland and the Gold Coast, sees both clubs possibly lasting no more than two seasons due to a lack of fan support. FFA’s bill: $12 million, enough to capitalise western Sydney and increase club dividends.

”These problems have been compounded by FFA’s decision to itself run the 2022 World Cup bid. Already a stretched organisation, its four mandates – the bid, the league, fielding our national teams and developing the game – have seen governance and performance suffer.

”More money is not the answer without sound strategy. A successful World Cup will only solve the game’s problems if the obligation of hosting football’s greatest event brings about world-class standards of governance and decision-making.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.