The example set by Australian professional footballers who have committed their careers to the A-League deserves the “respect and protection” of the game’s rulers and financial backers, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said today in opening the 2010 congress of FIFPro Asia – the Asian division of the world players’ union – in Tokyo, Japan.
“One of the most appealing aspects of the A-League is its capacity to attract players at all stages of their careers,” Schwab, the Chairman of FIFPro Asia, stated.  “The players – by committing precious years of their careers – are the greatest advocates of the dream to build Australia into a powerful football nation which boasts a world class professional league.

“Whilst only 5 years old, the A-League is already ranked by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as the 6th best league in Asia, based on a variety of measures including technical standard, marketing, crowds and organisation.

The A-League is also only one of 4 leagues with Iran, Japan and China that meet all 10 of the AFC’s criteria.  Moreover, the A-League is respected in Australia, which is arguably the world’s most competitive sports market.

“If the A-League is to become an even more important player in Asian football as well as Australian sport, two key challenges of equal importance must be met: (1) sustainable expansion; and (2) the attractiveness of the playing career path.  The first wins the battle for the fans; the second the battle for the players.”

Schwab said that after a week in which the PFA has been involved in extensive talks about the future of A-League expansion franchises North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, some players remain uncertain about their futures, including some with long term injuries.

“The PFA is disappointed that Football Federation Australia (FFA) did not take steps to ensure all player contracts were respected when it made the welcome decision to financially support the continuation of North Queensland Fury in the A-League, albeit through a new corporate entity.  FFA had previously ensured all player contracts were honoured when approving ownership changes at Adelaide United and Perth Glory.

“We understood respect for player contracts in these circumstances to be a given,’ Schwab said.  “Should some renegotiation be required due to financial constraints, then I have no doubt the players would handle those negotiations in the best interests of the game and to achieve the common objective of a viable A-League franchise in North Queensland.”

“As a matter of strategy and principle, it is unacceptable that players face the risk of unemployment through this process especially if we aspire to make football the sport of choice for the talented athlete.  In the world of football, sudden unemployment can be career ending.

“There are many examples of players that have returned home to Australia to play their role in the game’s regeneration.  Similarly, a number of foreign footballers have come to our shores to play their part.  This commitment must be valued by the game’s stakeholders and protected when clubs experience difficulties.  If it is not, there is a real risk that players will increasingly pursue their careers away from the A-League.”

Schwab said that when it comes to financial governance, the PFA and Australia’s professional footballers were arguably the most disciplined in the world.

“Asian and world football today face significant financial problems which, in many countries, extend from low levels of regulation that often see player contracts not honoured.

“As a new sporting and business venture, it is even more likely that the A-League and its clubs will from time to time face financial challenges.  This sees the A-League operate a collectively bargained salary cap to protect the financial viability of the clubs and promote competitive balance.  This approach – one of only two in world football and unique to Asia – is demonstrative of the PFA’s and the players’ commitment to achieve a financial structure that gives security to FFA, clubs, owners and players alike.”

“Given this incredible contribution on and off the field, surely the game is obliged to give all Australian professional footballers the respect and protection they deserve.  Should it not meet that obligation, then the PFA obviously has a duty to ensure every avenue is pursued that will prevent the players from being disadvantaged.” Schwab added.