I’ve been in India for a week on important business with Asian Football Confederation, but I have been watching and listening to the issues surrounding the Hyundai A-League.
On Tuesday, I spoke to the media to make some important points.
1. Firstly, FFA has a zero tolerance policy for the good of the game - for the good of the vast majority of our fans who just want to support their team and enjoy entertaining football in a unique atmosphere.
2. The leaking of highly sensitive and confidential information about banned people and the subsequent publication was wrong. FFA is investigating the leak.
3. The banning system has served its purpose for seven seasons, but like any process it needs fine-tuning. We accept that the system needs some clarification and better communication.
4. I’ve seen and heard the response of fans over the past week. Now it’s time to turn that energy into what fans do best – support and inspire their teams.
That’s at the heart of this matter - FFA’s determination to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for fans at Hyundai A-League matches. It’s part of our growth strategy.
What I can say today about the banning system is that I will take proposals to the FFA Board to review and improve the system.
We are contemplating having a panel of ex-players involved in the process.
There’s an appetite for a volunteer community service element for those who have done the wrong thing but who eventually want to return to being a fan who is welcome at the A-League.
We will formalise a process where a banned person can have a ban overturned, if there is clear proof they did not engage in anti-social behaviour.
What we will not do is relax the zero tolerance policy.
Regrettably, from time to time we need to ban people who do the wrong thing.
The banning system started in 2008. To put it in perspective, since that time the A-League has staged more than 1,000 matches and seen an average of 1.8 million people go through the turnstiles every season.
We have 198 on the banned list. A relatively small number, but still too many.
The offences are serious - assaults, ignition of flares, invading the pitch or throwing projectiles.
Finally, I’d like to speak directly to the fans. Let’s be clear - the fans make the A-League what it is today; a vibrant, exciting competition that is the powerhouse driving the game’s growth in Australia. They atmosphere still gives me goosebumps.
Yes, there are those critics who don’t like our game’s ambition, our diversity or our unique fan culture. To compare football’s situation to the despicable acts happening in other places in the world is way outside the flags.
But this week the game has spoken. I made comments at the outset that were lost in the mix, but I know that people across the game this week have rebuffed the attacks. That’s a sign of the game’s confidence and strength. It shows our unity of purpose.
A part of my job is to make sure A-League matches are a joyous celebration of the game, where anti-social behaviour is not tolerated.
To those fans who walked out of matches last weekend, your point has been made. Get behind your teams for 90+ minutes this weekend.
To all the members and fans of A-League clubs, thank you for your support.
Yes, this has been a difficult week, but it’s nothing that will deflect us from our mission.