Opinion

Desolate derby highlights the serious conundrum facing FFA

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Football Federation Australia has been caught between a rock and a hard place as it tries to grapple with the chaotic effects of the coronavirus crisis that has taken on pandemic proportions.

The massive dilemma facing the governing body is whether to keep going with the A-League behind closed doors or risk getting offside with broadcaster Fox by bringing proceedings to a stop.

The 25th Sydney derby was another hard-fought confrontation yet it brought home the grim reality that football without fans is not real football and the game's stakeholders are entitled to ask if it's worth persevering with this deflating state of affairs for the sake of continuity.

There is little doubt that Fox, which is immersed in an economic struggle to survive, would not pay any more money for the rights to show the A-League to its subscribers if the FFA were to pull the plug on the competition.

Which is probably why the FFA and A-League, even if they privately think it might be better to stop, are so keen to complete the season as soon as possible; because they might feel that Fox would jump on any opportunity to walk away from their crumbling commitment to football.

Let's not beat about the bush ... without Fox there is no professional football in Australia.

The FFA and the A-League no doubt ought to be commended for doing their best to save the season and safeguard the clubs' immediate futures despite strong opposition but it is now clear that we should not play on any more while the country is coming to a virtual standstill.

FFA no doubt is acting on high-level medical advice and is cognisant of the importance of its bottom line and, to be fair, it also has declared that it is prepared to be "agile and responsive" to the situation that is changing by the hour.

Since chief executive James Johnson told the media of FFA's plans to go ahead with the competition, travel to and from Australia has become virtually impossible, Tasmania has gone into complete isolation, social distancing rules have become stiffer and we might be dealing with suburban lockdowns in NSW by the time the weekend is over.

When you reflect on this precarious scenario and then switch on the television to watch the derby, you realise that the moment has come for the FFA and the clubs to reassess what's more important: Fox's dollars or the game's integrity.

The 1-1 draw between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers made for a rather depressing telecast as the two sets of players faced each other all alone in a fixture that has become the epitome of colour and passion and is usually the biggest crowd-puller of the regular season.

Sydney's Adam Le Fondre was given enough social distance by the Wanderers to be able to slot home the first goal unopposed after 35 minutes, before Kwame Yeboah's fortuitous deflection in the 81st minute gave the Wanderers a much deserved share of the spoils.

Sure enough, the derby was a top contest with moments of high quality football you'd expect from two clubs that in seven years have created a genuine rivalry that transcends mere sport. But, as a spectacle, it was as flat as a pancake.

Sydney captain Alex Wilkinson, who is also Professional Footballers Australia president, admitted that it was a very unusual experience for him.

"It was strange, almost eerie, especially being a derby," Wilkinson said. "As players, it's up to us now to make our own atmosphere."

This 'home alone' competition makes you wonder if it is worth projecting such desolate sights as that provided by the derby for the sake of another Fox cash instalment?

Clearly the game's hierarchy thinks it is, but since the virus is showing no signs of disappearing, could it be playing with the players' health by going ahead with the games when far bigger competitions like Europe's big five leagues have opted for safety-first tactics?

The majority of A-League players are believed to be in favour of continuing to play and you feel that most supporters would prefer the league to stop.

Australian football is suddenly engulfed in a very delicate situation and major decisions must be made to secure its immediate and long-term future.

It has never been more important for our game to get it right as it is now.