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The fans’ verdict: FFA guilty until proven innocent

The Roar The Roar 4/12/2015 Janek Speight
Newly elected chairman of the FFA Steven Lowy speaks to the media as FFA CEO David Gallop laughs during a press conference. © Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images Newly elected chairman of the FFA Steven Lowy speaks to the media as FFA CEO David Gallop laughs during a press conference.

The FFA’s belated press conference on Thursday was what football fans should have heard more than 10 days ago.

It condemned anti-football reports, it announced the FFA would review its banned fans policy, and it rightly stood by banishing those who smear the game’s image.

Yet it was 10 days too late.

Every football fan knows it was a belated response, and thus the words have been consumed with derision and scepticism. But if that same press conference had been held on the Monday following The Sunday Telegraph‘s initial report, this whole mess would likely have been avoided.

The press conference was nowhere near perfect – it still sounded condescending at times – but that is to be expected from any governing body that is frantically back-peddling amid fan unrest.

Steven Lowy’s first appearance as chairman was less than inspiring, and his belief that “getting angry and frustrated isn’t getting us anywhere” did more harm than good.

At least an admission of fault was offered.

“We got it wrong,” Gallop said. “We should have come out earlier. The Sunday Telegraph article unfairly tarnished decent football people… We got it wrong, and we should have recognised that.”

Yet most fans still hear empty promises. And they cannot be blamed. The FFA has lost trust and credibility and must deliver over the next few months to claw it back.

Gallop said the FFA board would be presented with a proposal to review the banned fans policy, and that a new policy would be finalised in February next year. Given the complexity of the issue, and the upcoming Christmas and New Years break, that is not an unacceptable turnaround.

Two months to fix a flawed system that has alienated fans to the extent of widespread protests? That is surely the minimum amount of time anyone can demand if they want the new proposal to take in all stakeholders’ opinions and arrive at an appropriate solution.

A rushed approach is the last thing Australian football needs.

Yet it is not quick enough for some, with Melbourne Victory’s active support group the North Terrace sending out a swift response which called the “out of touch” FFA’s latest communication a “blatant deflection”.

The supporter group have promised to boycott matches “indefinitely”.

So what now?

The initial boycotts were aimed at drawing a response from the FFA; to address the banned fan policy and to show a united front with football fans against agenda-driven, ignorant media reporting.

The protestors’ demands have been answered, to a degree. In all fairness, the FFA has done all it can do in the short term, even if it appears inadequate. Anything they do from here will be too late, anything they say will be criticised. There is little point engaging in name-slinging with Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones, instead the FFA has much more important work to do behind closed doors.

In two months, come the February board meeting, fans will have a better picture of how to judge the FFA.

So it is uncertain what boycotts will achieve from here if demands for a review of the banning process have been answered. There are other issues, of course, with growing concerns over the governing of Australian football.

The Wellington Phoenix’s uncertain future, the fallout from handing licences to owners without due diligence, the PFA stoush, the silencing of Ange Postecoglou, the NCIP, and complaints at a grassroots level have all caused a build up of animosity. Not to mention the shocking lack of leadership over the past 10 days. Those issues must remain highlighted.

However, most fan groups have focused solely on the banned fans, of which the majority, let’s not forget, are more than likely guilty. It does not excuse an unfair policy, but the offences must not be dismissed.

I support a fair process, but I certainly do not “Stand by the 198″. I stand by the innocent, but not those who have no love for football and more love for causing trouble.

Boycotts last weekend were necessary, and this weekend’s plans should remain regardless of the FFA’s renewed response. But beyond that?

In-game protests would surely send out a much more powerful and visual message than empty stands.

The FFA has already lost the fans, the clubs do not deserve to lose them too.

Lowy and Gallop must act strongly and promptly. The FFA are guilty until proven innocent, ironically, and in two months fans will see the first piece of evidence in their defence.

The governing body must shed the autocratic approach adopted under Frank Lowy and engage with all stakeholders. It must answer questions surrounding its leadership and if necessary make personnel changes. But it also needs time to make these changes.

In February comes the first test, failure to deliver and boycotts will once again be warranted.

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