PRESSURE is mounting on Football Federation Australia to solve the stand-off with A-League supporters, as fan boycotts threaten to turn this weekend’s games into a ghost round.
Senior figures in the game warned that losing the support of fans would be catastrophic for the A-League, with Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro insisting that “what happens in the next 12 months will determine the success of football in Australia for the next 10 years”.
Members of the so-called active fan groups at four of this weekend’s five fixtures have pledged to boycott the games, protesting at FFA’s perceived lack of engagement with them and in particular the limited appeal rights available to those banned for anti-social behaviour.
A day after David Gallop came under fire for a lukewarm defence of the game – following days where fans had been likened to terrorists in some quarters – Sydney coach Graham Arnold said the boycott showed “how serious an issue this is, and how strongly the fans feel”.
Di Pietro launched an impassioned defence of the sport, calling on FFA to stand up for the fans groups on whom it has based much of its marketing.
“The FFA must resolve fan discontent,” he said. “Our fans are what make the A-League matchday experience so special.
“This game is a game of passion and emotion which must be embraced, not suppressed. The FFA must defend its fans from the slurs.
“As Mark Bosnich said, football needs its fans. Fan walkouts, for whatever reason, must be resolved with actions, not rhetoric.
“There must be a fair and realistic appeals process put in place without delay. And, really, how do you resolve problems? You sit at the table and talk about it. Sit with the fans and engage.”
Arnold described the rancour as the most concerning dispute in the A-League’s 10 years, and questioned why football had come under attack.
“The big concern is, if (fans) are preparing to boycott a game, it shows just how serious an issue this is, and how strongly they feel,” he said.
“This is an issue that we need to go away quickly. Without the fans there is no game. We’re into Round 9 this, there’s still a long way to go in the season.
“Why is it only football to get bashed like this? There’s plenty of things that go on in other codes that get swept under the carpet.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s Melbourne Victory corporate function, coach Kevin Muscat slammed some of the the commentary around the sport.
“It’s got to the point now where people are just making comment so we know who they are, so it’s pretty disappointing,” he said.
“The best thing we can do is ignore and push on because if you look around, I don’t think anyone is terrified of being in this room and the 25,000 that turned up to our last game, I don’t think there was anyone scared of being in that stadium, so let’s push on and stick together.”
© 2015 The Daily Telegraph | This article first appeared on The Daily Telegraph written by Tom Smithies on 2 December 2015.