Football Federation Australia's (FFA) proposal to freeze the A-League salary cap for two years has emerged as a massive hurdle to a new collective bargaining agreement being finalised, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) chief executive Adam Vivian told The World Game.
After a day-long meeting between the game's stakeholders yesterday and with the term of the current CBA ending on Tuesday, Vivian said he would seek another meeting - which would be the 23rd in the process - to be scheduled as soon as possible.
"My intention is to write to the federation formally today to acknowledge the financial difficulties and outline some of the actions we discussed in the meeting," Vivian said. "There is a realisation that we're going to need some more time and we hope to sit down again in the near future."
The publicity ahead of yesterday's meeting centred on the need to achieve a better pay deal for the Matildas, who have captured the spotlight by winning through to the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup.
It is a performance that is unprecedented by a senior Australian men's or women's national team.
But Vivian said that while there was a "philosophical buy-in" from all of the game's stakeholders that the Matildas' situation needed to be significantly improved, the stance from FFA on the A-League salary cap had come as a shock to the players.
And in the attempt by PFA to achieve a "whole of game" agreement, any hurdle that emerged in one area of the game - whether it be related to the Socceroos, Matildas, or the A-League and its clubs - was a hurdle to any all-in deal being done.
"After four years of restraint the players were taken aback by the fact they were being asked to accept a freeze for the next two years," Vivian said. "That was certainly something they were prepared for, as a possibility, but they thought there would be an opportunity to negotiate it.
"We haven't shut the door on those discussions with the federation, but the difficulty now is around the timing, because the CBA expires on the 30th of this month.
"If the players were to accept the freeze it would be conditional on many things and unless those conditions were met it would be difficult to get it over the line.
"There needs to be a commitment to strategic investment into the players and unless we can get that model right it's going to be very difficult for the players to accept the agreement in its current form. They need certainty around the investment in player payments.
"The players are not comfortable in signing off on the deal as it's been presented to them. It's the biggest obstacle we face to a CBA deal being done."
Vivian said the players had done the right thing by the A-League by not pushing for bigger increases in recent years and that they were entitled to a better deal now.
"The federation proposed to freeze the cap for another two years after four years of modest, at best, increases which were agreed to in good faith to stabilise the league," he said.
"The players found that very difficult to accept if there weren't going to be assurances around what happens post that freeze.
"Over the last four years there have been two CPI increases to the cap, followed by increases of one per cent and two per cent.
"If we get another two years of freeze on a cap of $2.55 million, then the players over a six-year term would be about five per cent behind the CPI.
"So, from that perspective, the players are saying 'hang on a second, we're doing everything humanly possible, we're the champions of Asia at both club and country levels, we're doing everything right and the revenues are growing through the league'.
"The league is growing in terms of viewership in all the key markets that have been reported publicly and now the players want to know what strategic investments are going to be made and how that relates to player payments if the revenues continue to grow."
Vivian said the earning capacity of players should not be adversely affected by some clubs not doing as well as they should in their business.
"Our understanding is that this is a proposal on behalf of the FFA and the clubs, so the clubs are in support of it," he said.
"But there are different clubs at different levels, so there is this issue that perhaps we don't want to play to the lower end of the spectrum. We want to ensure that the clubs are strategically growing and investing.
"Ultimately, the aim is to get a great broadcast deal in a couple of years' time and then we need to see strategic investment so that the product improves and continues to grow.
"The losses that are typical to some clubs are, I think, unrelated to player payments and are probably the result of poor governance and mismanagement at times, and I think it's unfair for the players to continue to bear the burden of the clubs.
"Particularly when they've shown restraint for an extended period of time.
"There are other revenues available apart from TV. We want to grow all revenue streams, not just one. The players are committed to that common objective."
PFA would obviously have to consider its legal options if FFA tried to impose its cap objective without a CBA being in place.
"We are still seeking the whole of game agreement," Vivian said. "There are a lot of complex issues related to that. We have some major obstacles and we need to overcome those obstacles.
"There are agreements in principle on whole of game and agreements in principle specific to the women's side of the game, but because we're talking whole of game any hurdle to the women's game or the men's game is an obstacle to everything."
Referring to the Matildas, Vivian said it remained critically important to achieve an immediate and significant improvement to their pay rates as well as establishing revenue streams that would enable continued improvement to their pay conditions and an upgrade of their working environment.
"Let's have a common objective here to grow the revenues," Vivian said. "People love high performance, people love high-achieving, successful teams and particularly since the Matildas are doing so well now people are going to gravitate towards them.
"They have become front-page news and it has pricked the ears of a lot of corporates. Their success also sparks more mainstream media attention. That's an important part of getting to where they want to go as well.
"We want football to have the best possible working conditions for elite female athletes and be the code of choice for them."