The Executive of Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) last night praised the solidarity of the 1997 Socceroos, in which the players overwhelmingly resolved to act as one to achieve a fair Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) on the way to qualifying for the Final of the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup, arguably the greatest tournament result in Socceroos history.

PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab, who held the position in 1997, said that industrial action in professional sports is “never easy”, and that Socceroos negotiations have “historically been damaged by administrators who believe there is benefit in delaying talks to the eve of important matches to leverage their position against the players.

“It requires courage to act in solidarity at these times. The famous 1974 Socceroos faced a similar battle, as did ’93, among others. In agreeing to take a stand, the ’97 Socceroos not only helped themselves, but future generations of Socceroos, Matildas and A-League players who are now protected by increasingly comprehensive CBAs thatalso dramatically enhance the quality and delivery of the sport.

“The PFA regards the ’97 Socceroos CBA achieved on the back of industrial action in Riyadh to be among the defining moments for player rights. Today’s Socceroos, Matildas and A-League players owe all21 players a huge debt of gratitude.”

The views of the players are recorded in a resolution signed in the Socceroos camp by 18 of the 21 players which reads:

“The following statement is intended to put forward the views of the Australian National Soccer Team in response to the pay dispute with Soccer Australia and Chairman David Hill.

What should be made clear from the outset is that there is not, and has never been, an agreement between the two said parties regarding player payments for the Confederation Cup or any other tournament. The players have been continually frustrated by pay offers designated ‘not negotiable’ by Soccer Australia who have refused to have any meaningful dialogue on grievances put forward by players and nominated representatives since Australia qualified for the Confederation Cup in 1996.

At this time the players agreed to have their case put forward by the Players Association – a logical step forward when one looks at the example of National teams overseas and other sporting codes. The response from Soccer Australia was to refuse to talk to the Association and to push the onus of disputes firmly with the players. As the players are spread across the globe and only get together a short time before Internationals, it is clear that any such disputes will be untimely as they will interfere with the preparation for important games – as we are witnessing now.

It is for these reasons that the players have resolved to play the following Confederation Cup games under protest with the understanding that no agreement concerning prizemoney has been achieved. While we are confident that logic will prevail and the players will receive just reward for their efforts we are similarly and steadfastly resolved to decline any future involvement in International games organised by Soccer Australia until this has occurred.”

Shortly after the tournament, Socceroos captain Alex Tobin and Schwab negotiated the CBA with Soccer Australia management.

“The 1997 Socceroos CBA established a set of principles that have since guided the Socceroos,” Schwab said.”A series of CBAs over 15 years has ensured that the Socceroos have at all times taken the field in a major tournament with the protection of an agreement negotiated in advance with the PFA.

“Those principles include:

  1. an outstanding high performance environment;
  2. ensuring the national team helps commercially build the Australian football industry;
  3. ensuring players are fairly rewarded financially for the honour of playing for their country with equal pay for all squad members;
  4. ensuring players are able to successfully manage their commitments to both their club and their country; and
  5. applying a share of player payments to the PFA for player education and wellbeing programs and activities.”

Schwab concluded: “The players’ collective action in ’97 stands alongside the 2003 reform of Australian football, the abolition of the domestic transfer system, the A-League CBA and the establishment of the PFA’s education programs as among the most significant player driven developments in the history of Australian football.”