PFA Executive Chairman Brendan Schwab looks to Saturday’s federal election, which is the first in Australian history where the world game has featured prominently.

The fact that the political significance of football is now understood by both major political parties is testimony to the game’s growth under FFA Chairman Mr. Frank Lowy AC since the Crawford reforms of 2003 and the long overdue governance and administrative overhaul that followed. The Howard Government deserves significant credit for driving these reforms through the Australian Sports Commission.  Undoubtedly, football is the world’s most significant sport in political, economic, cultural and sporting terms.  Australia’s status as a sporting nation remains seriously diminished by our inability to regularly compete with the best football nations of the world.

As has often been said by the protagonists, Saturday’s election is about the future, not the past.  From the PFA’s perspective, the “football platforms” of the two parties centre on four key areas:
1.        investment in the game;
2.        Australia’s national identity and place in the world;
3.        support for athletes; and
4.        workplace relations.

Football Investment

Labor has promised to double the Australian Government’s investment in the game, $32 million as opposed to the vital $16 million package promised by the Government over the next 4 years. If elected, a Rudd Government will enable the game to build its infrastructure from the grass roots up, addresseing a threat to the future development of the game recently highlighted by highly respected FFA Technical Director Rob Baan.  It will also see investment in Australia’s national teams, the professionalism of the women’s game and the development of the coaches, referees, administrators and volunteers required to drive the game forward.

Investment of this scale will make a meaningful difference to the way football is played and administered in Australia.  It will also vitally enable FFA to apply a greater share of its commercially generated revenues to its key priority areas, including the Socceroos, the A-League and the players, which will enhance the quality of Australian football and our international competitiveness.

National Identity

National identity is important to Australian football.  Football is the world game, and our recent World Cup success has much to do with Australia’s multicultural society.  Our symbolic World Cup victory over Croatia under the captaincy of Mark Viduka illustrates much.  Australia wants to be a leader in the world’s most competitive sport; and in order to do so we must continue to embrace multiculturalism and a strong identity as a proud republic engaging with Asia and embracing migrant footballers from developing nations throughout the world, including Africa and Asia.  Our colonial past has little relevance to this future.  Labor has promised a new referendum on the republic.

Whilst John Howard opposes an Australian republic, his anointed successor Peter Costello is a staunch republican.  Both sides have promised to symbolically engage indigenous Australians, a source of untapped football talent identified recently by FFA as a major weakness in our existing talent development and identification systems.

Athlete Development and Welfare

Athlete development and support is another vital issue. Footballers pursue a short term and precarious career path. As a nation with 300 professional players competing with the likes of Brazil who engage over 14,000, we must invest in each player’s career to ensure he maximizes his potential and develops as both a player and a person.  Labor’s position on the regulation of illicit drugs in sport more fairly balances the imperative of protecting football from the dangers of illicit drugs with the need to protect the health and wellbeing of our professional footballers.  Its position is based on the best available advice, and does not resort to the tokenism of ´zero tolerance´ and ‘tough on drugs’ mantra which is a feature of the drugs in sport policy released by the Australian government on the eve of the election.

Workplace Relations

Finally, on the issue of workplace relations, the difference between the parties is significant.

Only under Labor will professional footballers be guaranteed the right to engage in good faith collective bargaining to secure a sustainable professional future for themselves.  Fortunately, FFA and the PFA have reached progressive agreements which benefit players outside of the Coalition Government’s Workchoices legislation.  These agreements bring the players – a key stakeholder in the game – to the table to contribute to the growth and development of our game.It is unfortunate that this example – one also followed by AFL, cricket and rugby among Australia’s leading sports – is not available to the most needy of Australian workers.

Perhaps the message in this lies in the fact that whilst to some football may not be that important in itself, its undoubted political power lies in the example it can set for the