User:Daniel.josifovski/Australian Football:The Political Past and the Business Future

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Australian Football:The Political Past and the Business Future

Over the past 30 years, Australian Football (also known as soccer) has had tried and failed numerous times to establish itself in the Australian sporting market. Political unrest within the administration and influence of ethnic identities have brought the game to ruins. It has seen many administrative changes and the demise of the former National Soccer League. After a government inquiry to the re branding of football in Australia, the sport has seen dramatic changes such a new administration running the game, the introduction of the new A – League,and reduced ethnic involvement in the professional competition. Since these changes, Australian Football has been on the rise, with the country’s top male football team qualifying for the past two FIFA World Cups and the game is in a much healthy state than it was in the past.

This paper will discuss the changes that Australian Football has been going through over the past 30 years. The paper looks at how football became associated with ethnic tension which gave the game a bad image. Ethnic tensions grabbed political reactions in Australia and a need for change in the sport will be highlighted.The restructure of governance within the administration of football in Australia - from a political and business perspective that aimed to ensure that “the world game” would succeeds in Australia not only on national scale but an international scale are the major changes that will be discussed. From such changes Australia has positioned itself of the world football map which brings this paper to conclude considering the future of football in Australia.

Football (also known as soccer) in Australia[edit]

Football' also known as soccer by Australians has come a long way in the past 30 years. It is clear to say that football has positioned itself in the Australian sporting landscape and given Football in Australian an International profile. Image by Goldsztajn

Australia is one of few countries across the world that is well represented in four football codes. It may be the only country in the world that successfully operates four full professional leagues and development systems (Danforth, 2001). Of these four systems, Australian Football, also known as the AFL is the number one rating code in terms of revenue and spectators. Then follows Rugby League and Rugby Union, and lastly soccer also known as football. Football in Australia occupies a paradoxical position, where it is the highest rated code for participation, but the fourth rated code in terms of revenue and spectators (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008).

The failure of Soccer:The National Soccer League 1977 - 2004[edit]

In 1977, The National Soccer League (NSL) was formed at time when Australian politics was embracing 'multiculturalism' (Danforth, 2001). The NSL operated for over 28 seasons, and featured over 40 teams during its time, it was one of the first national premiership competitions of any sporting code in Australia (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008).

However, during its tenure the NSL combated a number issues that made it difficult for soccer to develop at an elite level. Issues such as failure to retain or attract high quality players to the league, tension between clubs and supporters stemming from ‘traditional’ European political, racial and cultural conflicts, financial instability and poor senior management were all reported in the sporting and business sections of the Australian media (Hay 2006).

Ethnic Tension[edit]

Post the Second World War saw the arrival of Eastern European migrants to Australia. It was evident from their arrival that football was their sport of choice, as most of them came from countries where football was the way of life (Hay 2006). These migrants contributed to the expansion of football within Australia from a domestic to a national level. Many of the teams formed in the NSL in 1977 were formed by ethnic backed nationalities such as Italians, Greeks, Croatians, Serbains, Macedonians, Poles, Dutch, Germans and Maltese (Mosley,1995).

While it found by Danforth 2001 these new migrants pioneered football in Australia, they also contributed to ethnic tensions to affect the image and development of the game. The marginalised position in Australian society at that time, also lead to the marginalization of the game, with football commonly being labelled ‘wogball’ - a racist slur originating from white English speaking Australians, referring to the Eastern European interests in the game Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008 .

According to Mosely (1995) much of the ethnic tension, was seen within the Balkan nationalities such as the Croatians, Serbians and Macedonians, along with the Greeks. Due to the political conflict in their homeland countries, many of these ethnic football followers brought violence to Australian football matches on a local and national scale which hindered the sport nationwide (Hughson 2001). Rival supporters sought to provoke one another with flags, chants, insulting songs and verbal abuse which at times escalated to physical violence.

The ethnic tension in football received negative publicity and the media warned the public to stay away from football (Hughson 2001). Violence at NSL matches helped the media stereotype people with interest in the game, and established a form of institutionalised discrimination that reinforced attitudes hostile to the acceptance of multiculturalism in Australia. Given the ethic component in football, the acceptance of multiculturalism was seen to be ruining sport in Australia. Backlash from the Australian Government, especially from the Victorian State Government in 1990 (Hughson 2001), and the loss of spectators forced the NSL to ‘de- ethnicise’ the league to avoid further scrutiny and to make more 'mainstream'. This was not an easy process, as the founders of all the clubs in NSL were passionate about their cultural heritage and football was one of their ways to express it (Rosenberg, 2009).

The process of ‘de ethnicising’ the league involved clubs being required to remove all symbols such as flags and names that represented a nationality or ethnicity. It was apparent that such requirements provoked indignation from clubs and the whole football community in Australia (Rosenberg, 2009).Ethnic supporters were still following their teams. National flags and ethnic chants were still apparent at matches, which continued the tension between spectators. The media coverage of the NSL remained low and when it did receive any coverage it was scrutinised for its failure on addressing the problems. According to Hughson 2001 p.41 "...that all commercial television coverage of crowd misbehaviour at soccer matches is reducible to the aphoristic assumption that “the wogs are at it again”. The corporate and consumer attractiveness of NSL suffered. From this, crowds kept away and the professional side of football was limited.

Business Failure: The influence of the Government[edit]

Put aside the ethnic tension, it was clear that the efforts of NSL and Soccer Australia, that the running of soccer in Australia needed a change. In 2003, a federal government enquiry produced The Crawford Report 2003 that called for a complete overhaul of the governance of Association of Football at all levels across Australia and also includuded the dissolution of the NSL in 2004 (Rosenberg, 2009).

The structure of Soccer Australia was represented by mixed bodies , which didn’t really represent the country as a whole. In The Crawford Report 2003 it was recommended that the representation structure of members of Soccer Australia was a mixture of each state bodies and special interest groups rather than people with a particular interest. From this recommendation the national and state bodies would have dual responsibilities which would include the development of the elite component of the code as well as its grassroots development of the game. As this simplified roles it was hoped that it would reduce duplication services and simplify the governance structure to assist teams in NSL (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008).

As the NSL and Soccer Australia were operating under the same body,The Crawford Report 2003 p.14 believed that ‘ The NSL has a better chance of success if is allowed to operate as a standalone body...however, because Soccer Australia responsibility for the wellbeing and development of the game at national and international level, there is potential for overlap between the objectives of Soccer Australia and a standalone NSL in Australia.’ It was recommended The Crawford Report 2003 that Soccer Australia establish a separate NSL operating under a different license for three main reasons (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008).

1. A separate board would be more responsive to the needs of the professional game

2. The professional side of the sport required board members with a different skill set

3. Soccer Australia would be shielded from any potential NSL shortfall

The majority of the these new reforms and recommendation by the The Crawford Report 2003 had been implemented by the National and State Football Associations. The threat of withholding of funding by the Australian Sports Commission to Soccer Australia ensured that associations did not resist to the reforms (Rosenberg, 2009).. The restructuring of the governance with Soccer Australia has led to a more democratic approach where groups who were not previously represented ( e.g referees, women’s players ) have been given much more authority in decision making. Such restructuring of the governance led to the entire resignations of Soccer Australia board members which were replaced with a board led by Frank Lowy – ‘Australia’s second wealthiest man with a sharp business acumen and unbridled passion and enthusiasm for the code‘ (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008 p.400) and John O’Neill – a former banker and former head of Australia Rugby Union.

According to Rosenberg, 2009 Lowy and O’Neill’s first major change in the sport was the official renaming of soccer to ‘football’. The sport’s governing body Soccer Australia had its name changed to the Football Federation of Australia (FFA). Lowy and O’Neill’s management team felt that Australia was now mature enough to claim the rightful name of football and it was important to make this symbolic change to bring the world game in Australia and in line with the rest of the football world (Rosenberg, 2009).

The new management team of FFA was very much all about re-branding the game in Australia. It was apparent that FFA had a practical corporate and business mindset into changing national league (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008 p.400). An eight team format was introduced with strict guidelines to become considered for the new league. Reasons for small number of teams was to concentrate on the available talent to raise the standars, re-frame to a corporate rather than a 'political' identity and to have a short domestic season so leading teams could take part in the World Club Championship and the Asian Champions League (Hallinan et al, 2007). The FFA proposed to ensure stability of the league that franchises who expressed interested would be able to show that it had $ 5 million dollars in captial to be considered for a licence. It appeared that most of the former NSL clubs could not meet the $5 million dollar licence to compete in the league and many of the ethnic backed NSL clubs were poised to play in the countries respective state leagues (Rosenberg, 2009).

The Beginning of Football and Business: The A- League[edit]

The introduction of the new A- League has created a new fan base : Pictured here is Sydney FC fans based in what is known as 'the cove'. Image by Joeyjeremiah kkf

On the 26th of August 2005, a new era had began in Australian Football. A new national league was born and it appeared that the ‘new football’ was staying far away as possible from the ‘old soccer’ . After the old NSL saw 46 teams come and go and $500 million in capital disappear , it was the FFA's imperative to get away from the old dugout of the NSL (Football Australia, 2011) .

At the start of the inaugural A- League season a $3 million dollar TV advertising campaign was launched. It clear that the A-League was rebranding itself with a theme of ‘Football, but not as you know it’, a strategy clear at aimed at reducing the historical ethnic associations attached to soccer (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008). The slogan that was used by the A- League replicated that of the English Premier League more than a decade when it established itself to be ‘ a whole new ball game ‘.

The new management team of the FFA and A- League were clearly influential into the excessive amount of interest this new league was bringing to the country. The A- League attracted a number of corporate sponsors with car company Hyundai securing the major sponsorship of the league and also signing an exclusive deal with Fox Sports to air all A- League matches live (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008).

The league itself started off with a bang with a number of high profile players such as Dwight Yorke ( former Manchester United player ) playing their trade in Australia (Football Australia, 2011). It was evident that the new league was a step up of the old NSL as the average attendance of 11,420 in its first season was significantly greater than the NSL final season of 4,119 (Ultimate A-League Statistics, 2011).

Now into its 7th season the A – League has grown into the Australian sporting culture. The league has recently been boosted by the signing of Australian superstars Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell for the 2011/2012 season with respective teams Sydney FC and the Melbourne Victory. The calibre of such players highlights how far the A-League has come of the years and with their signings boosting the profile of football in Australia (The FA Daily, 2011).

The Future of the 'World Game' in Australia[edit]

The rise of the Australian Football has come a long way since the introduction of the Hyundai A-League. It has attracted Australian Football stars such as Harry Kewell, who is pictured playing for the Australian National Team. Image By Camw

Once the FFA was formed it established three objectives into rebranding the game for the future (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008). These being:

1. The Establishment of a new professional league

2. Help the Australian National Team qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup

3. Reposition Australia from being represented in Oceania and move to Asia.

In 2005, the Australian National Team qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Even though it was still under the old qualification process , the FFA’s practices in preparation for the qualifiers were imperative and were apart of the successful process. Since the qualification for the 2006 World Cup the profile of football was on a rise. Participation levels of the sport were on the rise, more interest into the A-League and demand for more Australian National Team matches were all some of the highlights that football received (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008). Since then Australia qualified again for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

It was highlighted by Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008 that in 2006 the FFA was re positioning from competing in Oceania to Asia.The whole purposes of the move was to allow the national team play more competitive teams and a much fairer qualification process to the World Cup and allow the top A-League teams compete in the Asian Champions League ( equivalent of the European Champions League ). Initially Australia was rejected to move into Asia , however after several meetings with FFA and Asian Football Confederation ( AFC) it was confirmed that Australia were switching from competing in Oceania to Asia. The FFA convinced the AFC that the move would be a commercial success but would make the region stronger and provide the AFC with greater political influence within FIFA.

With the combination of the success of the A –League , World Cup qualification and the shift to Asia has a greater commercial interest in football in Australia. This became evident were the FFA struck a $120 million dollar deal with Fox Sports . The deal included exclusive rights to all A-League fixtures , every Socceroos matches and 98 games across the Asian region. Even though these figures are distance from the other three football codes in Australia and other national football leagues worldwide such as the English Premier League. It has positions football into the mainstream of Australia sport in terms of income and exposure of a home grown product. (Skinner, Zakus & Edwards, 2008).


In conclusion of this paper it is evident that ‘football’ also known as soccer has had its ups and downs in Australian sport history. Over the years, Australian Football was plagued with a number of issues that it made difficult for it to develop at an elite level. Issues such as tension between clubs and supporters stemming from ‘traditional’ European political, racial and cultural conflicts, financial instability and poor senior management were all reported in the sporting and business sections of the Australian media. This led to a government enquiry into the overhaul of what was known then as soccer.

After the governments inquiry to overall football in Australia , The Crawford Report 2003 was released to reform the sport. The Crawford Report 2003 recommended a number of governance changes that would benefit the sport. Australia was given new hope when the newly form management team led by Frank Lowy and John O’ Neill were elected to reposition the game in Australia. Since the change in management , football in Australia has taken away the political unrest within the sport , and reduced historical ethnic associations with football to revitalise the game. The introduction of the A – League , qualification into the past two World Cups and the move into Asia have evolved football into a business that has attracted corporate support. This ongoing success that football in Australia is having will only continue to grow the sport and one day hope to position itself as the leading football code in the country.


Daniel.josifovski/Australian Football:The Political Past and the Business Future
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Closing comments
  • Mosely. P.A, 1995 Australian Sports Commission: Ethnic Involvement in Australian Soccer: A History 1950-1990 Published by the Nation Sports Research Centre Australia
  • Report of the Independent Soccer Review Committee: into the Structure Goverance and Management of Soccer in Australia, 2003 The Crawford Report 2003 retrieved on 5th October 2011