MELBOURNE, Sept 30 (Reuters) - A governance crisis that has blighted Australian soccer for two years and threatens the nation’s defence of their Asian Cup title in January is set to come to a head at an extraordinary general meeting on Tuesday.
Football Federation Australia is at loggerheads with professional clubs over the governance of the game in Australia, with world governing body FIFA stepping in last year in an attempt to end the long-running power struggle.
The dispute centres on reforms to the federation’s Congress, which elects members to the executive board.
FIFA wants the Congress to become more democratic and represent different stakeholders including players and women, and has given Australia plenty of time to hammer out a deal.
A Congress Review Working Group (CRWG) comprised of FIFA, FFA and Asian Football Confederation delegates submitted a proposal for governance reforms in July but the FFA board has staunchly opposed a number of its recommendations, saying they give too much power to the clubs at the expense of grass-roots football.
The FIFA-backed reform package will be put to a vote at Tuesday’s EGM, and its defeat could plunge Australian soccer into further crisis by paving the way for a FIFA takeover.
With no prospect of a deal, FIFA could sack the Steven Lowy-led board and install a normalisation committee to administer the game, while suspending Australia’s membership until a new governance model is implemented.
That could mean banning national men’s and women’s teams from international football, including the FIFA-sanctioned Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Despite the lingering threat of this doomsday scenario, the FFA board has remained defiant, and on Friday published a letter to members detailing its opposition to the CRWG proposal.
Further muddying the waters, Sport Australia, the government agency that disburses public funds to sports, voiced its objections to the proposal, saying some of its recommendations did not fit with their own “Sports Governance Principles”.
Eight out of the 10 current Congress members must vote in favour of the CRWG proposal for it to be adopted, and the FFA board has lobbied hard to form a minority bloc with local stakeholders that can defeat the vote.
Smaller state and regional federations have aligned with the FFA board in the past to quash reforms but the Lowy leadership may be running out of time to shore up support.
All 10 members of the Congress issued a joint statement with the players’ union on Sunday which said they had reached agreement on changes to the FFA constitution.
Their proposed resolutions would be considered at the EGM on Tuesday, the statement added.
Lowy, the son of former FFA boss and shopping centre magnate Frank Lowy, has managed to drive a wedge between Congress members in the past, and at the 11th hour, to sink governance reforms.
The Congress’s show of unity could yet prove short-lived, and few familiar with the political machinations in Australian soccer would be surprised if another twist occurs before Tuesday’s vote. (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)