Wednesday, December 02, 2015

That Australian life - woes engulf Australian soccer as fans revolt

Just when things seem so good seems to be the time when the wheels come off.

On Tuesday 17 November 2015, ABC TV ran a documentary, Played: Inside Australia’s Failed World Cup Bid, This piece in The Conversation by David Rowe, The player played: Frank Lowy and Australia’s failed World Cup bid, provides some background. The photo shows Football Federation Australia's Frank Lowy with FIFA's Sepp Blatter in happier days.

I don't agree with all the tone of David Rowe's analysis, but it is clear that Australia and Frank Lowy were taken for a ride.This is not a criticism of My Lowy, his contribution to Australian soccer has been remarkable. Rather, Australia entered a murky pool that we did not properly understand. The documentary came following a long series of revelations about FIFA corruption, triggered in part by the bid Australia lost in such a humiliating fashion. .
Four days later, on November 21, Sydney's Daily Telegraph ran a piece,. Red card: The banned football fans from 10 A-League clubs, naming with the intent of shaming 198 people who had been banned from soccer games.As I indicated, I had severe reservations about the Telegraph's actions. Regular commenter 2t remarked what else can you expect from the Tele as the paper is colloquially known? Maybe, but the paper plus inflammatory comments from Sydney radio shock jock ignited a fire storm.
If you do not mind, I will read it out, 'Dear Mr,' and the name has been blacked out:
'Please be advised that Football Federation Australia (FFA) is not a government agency and, as such, the obligation to adhere to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice does not apply to our organisation. For this reason, FFA will not consider any appeal.' Evidence to Senate Committee Inquiry
Based in Parramatta, the Western Sydney Wanderers have been one of the success stories of the national A-League competition, building a support base that transcends  Problems with the relations between police and fans at  Wanderers games have been building for some time.

On 3 November 2015, the Australian Senate's Nanny State inquiry heard evidence at Parramatta on the extent of the problem, relations between policing and fans and the nature of FFA responses. You will find the full transcript here. It's worth reading in full.
We (our crowd management security company) tendered to a lot of large football clubs in the UK predominantly, including the likes of Manchester City and Leeds United, who back in the dark days were regarded as one of the worst clubs around. I have had the benefit of seeing, firsthand, how an approach of engagement as opposed to authoritarianism, as I perceive it, influences a crowd and a crowd's behaviour. Evidence to the Senate Committee Inquiry
The evidence shows a growing disconnect between the police on one side, the fans and club and indeed civic officials in the middle, and the FFA on the other. It seems clear that the police were adopting an increasingly interventionist approach including the presence of black garbed riot squad police. It seems clear that that the FFA were doing likewise, including banning people without any right of appeal or indeed, in some cases, without the people even being aware of the ban. It seems clear that there was a breakdown in communications and previous cooperative approaches between police, fans and civic officials with with both police and indeed the FFA adopting an activist (to use a phrase from the Inquiry) a "my way or the highway" approach.
Labelled "grubs" by police, likened to the terrorists who committed the horrors in Paris a fortnight ago by radio host Alan Jones and given little support by the governing body in the face of heavy-armed handling by police, the fans simply had enough. SMH report
In naming people as it did, the Telegraph breached privacy rules and also natural justice because those named had not apparently been before any tribunal nor had any appeal rights. They had just been banned. In response, the now furious Western Sydney fans began organising protests and boycotts of games with support coming from other clubs.

The first response of FFA CEO David Gallop was to temporise, to maintain a hard line while saying that fans could submit evidence to overturn their ban . It seems clear, I think, that he was thinking as CEO of the broader place and prestige of soccer with external stakeholders. In so doing, he forgot that the base of the game is the fan. Within hours, the fury engulfed the A-League.

At the weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald's Dominic Bossi reported that just half an hour into the match against Central Coast, the entire Wanderers active supporter group marched out of the ground leaving the scenic Central Coast Stadium at Gosford eerily silent. Even the Mariners' brass band stopped playing as they joined their rivals with a silent protest against the FFA, unveiling a banner criticising their lack of support for their faithful customers. Now Sydney FC supporters propose joining the boycott.

In his initial remarks, Mr Gallop said that appeal processes need to be "fine tuned". This plus the suggestion that fans could submit evidence appears in total conflict with the evidence provided to the Senate Inquiry stating that there was no right of appeal. It also conflicts with Dominic Bossi report (link above) and here I quote:
After years of criticism and pleas from supporters to provide transparency and the right to challenge bans, Head of the A-League Damien De Bohun declared the FFA is developing a system for innocent fans to have their spectator bans overturned. 
This strikes me as a little more than fine tuning!

Writing in today's Sydney Morning Herald, Perth Glory goalkeeper Ante Covic argues that A-League fans need to be treated as critical stakeholders who deserve respect. That's true. It would be sad if the outcome of all this was the destruction of the enthusiasm and character that Frank Lowy worked so hard to create.


The dispute rolls on, centered especially on the question of natural justice. This is the motion to be moved in the Senate on the matter:

Postscript 2, 5 December 

The trouble drags on. The ABC has now covered the case of Julian Cumbo who received a five year ban for an apparent incident in a pub that took place when he was sixteen. The ABC story includes the actual ban notice. The ban notice was apparently delivered by a security firm hired by the FFA. It states (among other things) that "your personal details ... are being maintained in accordance with the Football Federation Australia Privacy Policy and relevant Statutes".

As best I can work out from the story:
  • An incident of some type took place in a pub in Melbourne. The FFA ban notice says that Mr Cumbo participated in a violent brawl and that hew was subsequently issued with a police caution "due to your status as a minor." The wording here is ambiguous. Was Mr Cumbo issued with with the caution because he was a minor, for example because he was on licensed premises, or was it limited to a caution because he was a minor?
  • The ban was imposed as part of the FFA's zero tolerance policy. It purports to ban Mr Cumbo from both a variety of matches and a variety of venues 
  • There was no consultation prior to the ban, nor did the ban provide for any form of review or appeal provisions. It was just imposed.
There appear to be a number elements in all this:
  • The nature and extent of the FFA's zero tolerance policy. The issue took place in a pub, not on the grounds. Where does the FFA draw a line between ground incidents and those that might happen elsewhere?
  • The head of power the FFA used in adopting the policy
  • The process the FFA followed in imposing the ban. This is unclear
  • The absence of any review or appeal provisions
  • The failure of the FFA to maintain confidentiality and privacy. This would appear to be a breach of 
I am not a lawyer. However, I have been involved in quasi-legal proceedings in. for example, appeals against decisions of a specialist medical college or the operations of that college's ethics committee. Like the FFA, that college's operations had to meet tests of fairness and be consistent with the law. This imposed costs on the college and sometimes created very real issues where the results were seen by the college or some of its members as inappropriate. However, this was the price that had to be paid for a fair and transparent process.

While I am aware of the problems that can arise with fan behaviour, I don't understand the mindset that seems to have developed within the FFA that has led to a quasi-legal approach that not only breaches basic principles of equity, transparency and fairness, but seems to extend beyond the FFA's role, mission and powers.

Postscript 1 December 2015

Well, the boycott is over. The FFA accepted the complaints and agreed that those affected should have
access to all evidence on which the FFA intends to rely on in any ban process plus access to an appeals process independent of the FFA.  Following this, fan groups agreed to call the boycotts off.

The new process takes into account both due process and natural justice. I still don't understand why the FFA had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this point. 


2 tanners said...

I'm not bossy! I have skills - understand? Leadership skills!

-David Gallup?

Jim Belshaw said...

Yes. Do you know, I just couldn't see that error corrected. My thanks, 2t. Pity bossy doesn't work with soccer fans.