Building Australia's Football Community—review into the sustainability of football
By December 2001 Soccer Australia, as it was then known, faced some serious financial problems with debts exceeding $2.5 million. The company was under capitalised, had already sold off significant future commercial property rights (which subsequently failed to produce the financial returns envisaged), was struggling to support its seven national teams in international competition and had borrowed significant funds from at least one of its member associations.
The National Soccer League was also in financial crisis. An earlier independent report commissioned by the Board of Soccer Australia had questioned a number of management and financial practices within the Company.
Soccer Australia had effectively stopped performing as a national sporting organisation. Rather, its main focus was on the running of the National Soccer League and trying to pull together a few national teams for international events. There was little focus on developing community soccer. It was ineffective in its relationship with its member bodies, which in response showed little respect for Soccer Australia.
Over the period of ten years preceding the release of the Crawford Review’s report, Soccer Australia and its predecessor, the Australian Soccer Federation, had eight Chairmen, two Presidents and six Chief Executive Officers. Four separate enquiries had been undertaken into the administration and finances of the national body. Many relationships had developed at all levels within the sport, from club through to the national levels, which raised issues of personal interest over the interest of the sport.
At 30 June 2002, members’ equity in Soccer Australia was a negative $2.6 million. Of the nine major State and Territory federations, only three had members’ funds in excess of $100,000, two were technically insolvent and two were in a state of organisational dysfunction. Relationships between some of the State and Territory federations were less than cordial.
In the period of 26 years in which the National Soccer League had been in operation, 43 teams had participated incurring losses aggregating some $140 million over the period. During 2002–03, soccer’s seven international teams participated in only eleven events.
In September 2002, Senator the Hon Rod Kemp, the Federal Minister for the Arts and Sport, announced the terms of reference for an independent review of soccer to be chaired by Mr David Crawford. During November and December 2002, forums were held to capture input from relevant stakeholders. The review received over 230 written submissions and conducted 74 stakeholder meetings.
During this period there were several changes to the chairmanship, board membership and management of Soccer Australia resulting from Board resignations and elections at the 2002 Annual General Meeting.
On 7 April 2003 the review report was released. The ‘Report of the Independent Soccer Review Committee into the Structure, Governance and Management of Soccer in Australia, April 2003’(Crawford Review) made 53 recommendations affecting all aspects of soccer in Australia.
The first step towards effective implementation of the recommendations was the appointment of a new (interim) Board of Soccer Australia chaired by Mr Frank Lowy. It was recognised that the Board needed to be given sufficient time, without the threat of external challenge, to effect change.
The true financial position of Soccer Australia was not known at the time the new Board was appointed. It inherited a $1.7 million debt and projected trading losses of around $13 million over the next three years. The Soccer Australia Board determined that the only responsible position was to form a new national body and wind-up Soccer Australia. The Australian Soccer Association Ltd took over from Soccer Australia in October 2003, and was later re-named Football Federation Australia (FFA). It was supported by way of a special grant and loans of $13 million from the government.
The new Board and management committed to a contractual arrangement with government to implement the Crawford Review’s recommendations. A number of refinements and modifications were made throughout the process of implementing the review’s recommendations.