Australian football has a long history of bold and brash statements outlining its attempts to seal a lasting future for a game that, despite a strong participation base, cannot take the next giant step towards competing equally with the country’s major football codes.
We have had many plans and visions and more dawns of a new era than we can care to remember.
So why should the frustrated football fraternity, that has seen so many of its hopes dashed for a plethora of reasons, take this latest bid for respectability and sustainability any more seriously than before?
The reason is simple. Football Federation Australia’s release of a discussion paper comprising 11 key principles for the game’s future is not another exercise in informing its constituents of how things will be done but a genuine invitation for whoever is interested to give his or her opinion in a concentrated effort to nut out what’s wrong with our game and how we can improve it.
The main benefit, of course, is that we are now more likely to have a 'football' outcome than one driven almost entirely by business.
At first glance there is nothing artificial in the document's content because it strikes at the heart of all the hurdles that have stopped our game from reaching its true potential for decades.
It’s all in there: starting from the quest for a proper identity that is distinct from that of other football codes and the prioritising of the fan experience to the facilitating of player participation at all levels and positioning the Socceroos and Matildas as the flag-bearers of our sport.
Much has been said over the years about our lack of a proper football identity that has been highlighted by successive administrations that were more interested in appeasing a media besotted by Australian rules or rugby league than in doing the right thing by its own constituents.
Active support was another aspect of the A-League that made the competition so unique in Australia but it was systematically culled due to FFA’s paranoia with bad headlines. The match experience was badly hit as a result.
The cost of grassroots football is another impediment to the game’s growth and moves to ease the financial burden will be greatly appreciated by thousands of parents who spend much of their hard-earned money towards giving their children a chance to play.
There is no doubt the Socceroos and Matildas are among Australia’s most popular national teams and making sure they remain a top priority in terms of investment will not only enhance their brands but also draw more fans to our game because nothing drives a sport’s image more than international glory.
Conspicuous by their absence, however, are the questions surrounding the standard of match officials, which at best is average, and the continued use of the hated VAR.
From Monday onwards, FFA will release a series of online surveys to enable the football community to provide their views on the principles listed. These surveys will enable FFA to capture key trends and consider what consensus exists among the community regarding the game’s big issues. All surveys will close on 31 July.
This is music to the ears of one and all, particularly those fans who might have felt that they were often treated as mere supermarket customers not as the heart and soul of the game.
The reason I believe these targets have a fair chance of being reached is that this time the final decision will not come from a governing body that is driven almost entirely by business but from an administration that continues to show a level of transparency and understanding of football that we have rarely seen.
The road ahead in the post-pandemic era is difficult and FFA, to their credit, have not attempted to lead us into a false sense of security by issuing the type of outlandish statements often associated by previous administrations.
So there is no reason a team effort that is real not platonic cannot do the trick this time.
Let’s give it a go and see what happens.