Brain Roe | FIFA’s Aussie mission

INTERNATIONAL REFEREE: FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the rest of the international governing body have given the FFA until November 30 to sort out its  internal governance ... or else. Picture: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

INTERNATIONAL REFEREE: FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the rest of the international governing body have given the FFA until November 30 to sort out its internal governance ... or else. Picture: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

It almost beggars belief that FIFA might be heading to Australia to sort Football Federation Australia out.

Apparently they have found the need to sort things out in Argentina, Guinea and Cameroon in recent times and now it would seem it is Australia’s turn.

The reality is that the governance of Australian soccer is probably fine by a dozen other measures – including by whatever yardstick the Australian Sports Commission is using these days.

The FFA board structure and general meeting set-up looks fine and in line with what the ASC is demanding of all other sports that it funds.

And there don’t appear to have been any whispers that ASIC or any other regulatory authority has any cause for concern.

It’s simply fanciful to think that it is in any worse shape that most of its 200-plus fellow member federations of the world governing body.

The problem for soccer in Australia as it grows is that everyone wants to have a part of it. On the one hand it is a significant Olympic sport with a huge participation base and competition pyramid below that.

But it also craves to be just like the AFL and the NRL.

We can probably safely leave out the ARU for the moment as surely no other organisation wants to be remotely like it.

In fact if it was the International Rugby Board rather than FIFA wanting to throw its weight around, there might not be an issue.

The difference is that the two more-established bodies were competition organisers well before they decided they should be governing bodies as well.

As a result they are mostly structured around the teams in their premier competitions.

Sponsorships, television rights and financial security are all delivered by the game – so much so that there is plenty left over to foster and develop the sport from the grass roots up, especially when funding from all tiers of government is thrown in for facilities and participation programs.

But soccer has come much later to that party, and now faces the conundrum of how to accommodate the top tier teams and players.

Like most sports in Australia, FFA’s current voting membership is based on state and territory associations - although quaintly it has nine, with Northern NSW also in the tent.

But the top clubs and players also want their knees under the table, at least at general meetings, and here’s where FIFA gets involved - because it agrees with them.

Negotiations have been under way for some time.

However, although the states and territories have been happy to cough up some space at meetings for the others, the offers have been such that voting-power splits would see existing members able to still control the election of board members and other key decisions – provided, of course, they stick together.

The Socceroos' Aaron Mooy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Thailand. Soccer's growing popularity is putting pressure on the FFA. Picture: AAP Image/Joe Castro

The Socceroos' Aaron Mooy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Thailand. Soccer's growing popularity is putting pressure on the FFA. Picture: AAP Image/Joe Castro

So the situation seems to be that unless some agreement can be reached to FIFA’s satisfaction, and presumably that of the teams and players, by November 30, the governors of the world game will be on their way to Sydney to show us how it should all be done.

There are of course the odd few issues here.

FIFA is hardly the bastion of good governance itself. Sure it’s still got loads of cash, despite the best efforts of some of its past staff and ex-co-members to redirect a fair whack of it in their own directions.

And it either directly or through its regional associations determines how, when and between whom the international game is played.

But it’s unlikely that it would meet, for example, the governance principles of the Australian Sports Commission.

Like the International Olympic Committee and most of the other international sporting federations, FIFA is externally answerable to no-one – except when the police forces of one or two countries decide it’s in their interests to find a path to have a look inside.

There will be some strange bedfellows over the next ten weeks.

But let’s hope a way is found to sort this out domestically and avoid all those costly airfares from Switzerland.

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