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Football must take opportunities and reduce own goals

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This month, Australian football celebrated 10 years since John Aloisi’s famous penalty kick, which sealed victory over Uruguay and secured us passage to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Like all supporters at the time, I looked forward to the years ahead with a fresh sense of optimism.

There was promise for our code following one disappointment after another under Soccer Australia. The giant had finally woken, or so I thought.

Over the next five years, the game went from strength to strength before overreaching in our failed bid to host the World Cup itself. The knives came out quickly, accusing the bid committee of wasting tax dollars on a bidding process we were never going to win.

Even during the bid there were noises from rival codes and media commentators claiming some legitimate and many absurd reasons why we shouldn’t or couldn’t host the four-week tournament.

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that the optimism and arrogance that led to the FFA’s decision to place a bid reflected the high watermark of our sport.

Since then, football appears to have shot itself in the foot. From the ill-fated idea of establishing three clubs in Queensland, to the deteriorating relationship between fans and authorities – including police, the FFA, mainstream media and stadium owners – the game’s many detractors have never been short of ammunition.

Much of the fuel has been provided to them by the football fraternity itself.

Sure, there have been some great moments on the pitch since that dark day of December 2, 2010 when Russia and Qatar were awarded the next two World Cups.

But winning the Asian Cup and Western Sydney’s Champions League triumph have been overshadowed by ongoing examples of club mismanagement, the continued prevalence of antisocial behaviour and flares by a very small minority at games, and now the leaking of photos of banned minors to the media.

The response by clubs and the FFA to ban anyone showing a bit too much passion is arguably excessive and risks depriving the game the energy which makes it so special (especially when you consider that those accused have no recourse to defend themselves). But is understandable given the airtime afforded to sensationalist commentators such as Alan Jones and Rebecca Wilson and the damage they cause to our game.

Football is simultaneously the most loved and hated code in this country. Its potential and ethical diversity generates a level of fear and loathing in its detractors which is not shared by critics of AFL, NRL or cricket.

For football to continue the growth seen between 2005 and 2010, everyone involved needs to re-examine their role in the game and what more they can do to help, not hinder the code. No one wants to go back to the days of Soccer Australia, but there is a threat that we could head back that way.

The rise of crowd violence (real or perceived), egotistical owners more interested in offsetting their tax losses, and an FFA who only listen to those who tell them what they want to hear (despite David Gallop’s ironically titled article on The Roar), will increase that likelihood.

The litmus test will come in the form of the next TV deal, which is on track to be significantly less than the FFA hope for following the decoupling of the EPL and A-League by Foxtel/Optus.

Everyone who loves this game has the responsibility to return it to the right path.

Football, more than any other game, has the potential to welcome migrants into the Australian culture and prevent young people from becoming marginalised and turning to the type of extremism Wilson and Jones clearly don’t understand.

© 2015 www.sbs.com.au | This article originally appeared on www.sbs.com.au on 25 November 2015

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