Football Federation Australia has doubled down on the player eligibility decision which is likely to see Wellington Phoenix abandon plans to field a W-League team this season.
Whilst willing to give the project the green light, FFA were blindsided by a last-minute bid by Phoenix to have NZ nationals deemed as domestic players, as is the case in the A-League.
The move came after the New Zealand government offered to fund the team to the tune $500,000.
FFA’s refusal to bend existing W-League regulations, which limit foreigners to five per club, effectively stymies Wellington from fielding a de facto national team ahead of the 2023 trans-Tasman-hosted FIFA Women’s World Cup.
On the day NZ Sports Minister Grant Robertson was primed to join representatives from both the Phoenix and New Zealand Football at an official launch, FFA reiterated its commitment to maintaining “the integrity of the competition” - a move which has effectively quashed Phoenix’s W-League ambitions.
FFA’s view is that whilst the relationship with the New Zealand Federation is strong, the W-League is not a joint competition but rather an Australian competition.
“Wellington Phoenix requested a change to our player eligibility criteria on the eve of the season which we felt wasn’t either fair or feasible,” said an FFA spokesman.
“The club will have its reasons for doing so, perhaps the prospect of government funding being one, but we must concentrate on what’s best for the competition and the developmental interests of Australian players.
“Any proposal must also be considered within the context of FFA’s XI Principles for the future of Australian football, which emphasises FFA’s desire to enhance and promote playing and development opportunities for women and girls playing football in Australia.
“These are not merely words on paper and FFA will take the necessary steps to continue to promote these principles.”
The largesse shown to the Phoenix men’s team might change in future seasons, with FFA believed to be looking at ways of fast-tracking Australian talent in response to its just-released “Performance Gap” study.
One consequence might be the rescinding of the right for Phoenix to count NZ nationals as Australians.
Wellington Phoenix were contacted for comment.