Southern Expansion chairman Morris Iemma says there is no reason to delay expansion of the A-League despite Football Federation Australia’s impending major reforms.
But Iemma is worried amid the leadership uncertainty as to whether the original plan for expansion will go ahead at all with growing concerns the FFA board is considering scrapping the expansion process.
The FFA's major reforms last week will lead to a change in leadership at the organisation as eight bidding teams nervously wait to learn how it will affect their dreams of joining the A-League.
The FFA board was expected to meet on October 15 to discuss the expansion plans, with a decision on the two successful bids to be made public on October 31.
But Fairfax Media understands a decision may not be made for at least a year and the FFA board is at odds as to whether to push ahead or leave it up to a new chairman and board in November.
Iemma told the Leader reports that expansion could be delayed were an “obvious concern”.
“Because probably the number one issue facing the game in Australia at the moment is the A-League competition,” he said.
“We just don’t see any case to delay a decision no matter who is in charge. For us, if there is a change in who is running the game it should not cause deferral or abandonment of expansion of the national competition.
“Everybody in Australian football from players, fans, broadcasters, sponsors, the current administration itself, even the two opposed factions, people are unanimous about one thing. And that is the A-League, the showpiece of Australian football, needs re-invigoration, new blood and expansion.
“It’s not a decision that can be delayed.”
Iemma said a delay would be “extremely frustrating” but hoped if a decision was not forthcoming at the October board meeting one would be made by the end of the year.
“A change in administration is not unusual. In many entities companies go through change of leadership. That doesn’t then stop them from working,” he said.
“Look at our own Federal Government, the new Prime Minister and Treasurer haven’t stopped, they’ve been at pains to demonstrate they’ve been motoring ahead despite the hiccup they had internally.
“For a football organisation, if there was to be a change in administration the decisions to be made are still there. The information to rely on to make those decisions is all there. What is the case to defer or abandon? From that sense it is extremely frustrating because we’ve been through a thorough process.
“November or December is not really a delay. The current process is due to expire at the end of October. Three full weeks is no real delay. [But] if they put it all off until the middle of next year teams won’t be entering in 2019-20, it will be 20-21.
“It would be impossible [to get a team ready for the start of the 2019-20 season]. Even until March or April next year. You’re not going to be able to accrue a first grade team and sign contracts. Players have got existing clubs. [A decision] has got to be made this side of Christmas.”
If a delay were to happen though, Iemma said Southern would remain committed to bringing a team to represent St George, Sutherland Shire and Illawarra into the A-League.
“We’re in it for the long haul. Full stop,” he said.
“Over a year ago we started on the journey and everyone involved in the bid from the management team to the backers, everyone is committed to see it through. No matter how long it takes.
“From that sense there is no change. My view is one shared by the rest of the team and also I’d say with our competitors. It would be a massive step backwards if there is a significant delay. If they postponed or delay well into next year it would be a retrograde step for Australian football.
“All stakeholders and all groups, no matter which side of the debate they’re on, everyone is in general agreement that the national competition is crying out for new blood and re-invigoration.
“There’s no more work to be done. That’s the point, even the new board will have the means to make a decision in November or December. So far they've gone through the process of seeing who is out there. Secondly, they determined who was credible and who was not.
“That list of 10 credible bids is now down to eight. A mountain of information from bidders has been submitted. The current admin put all that data together. Delaying it until next year or more than a year or starting a new process isn’t going to throw up anything new.
“No matter who is running the game post November 7, there is no case to defer one of the most critical decisions in Australian football.”
The FFA's board suffered a major political blow last week after governance reforms were passed by its members, leading to a major devolution of power within the FFA's structure. As a result, FFA chairman Steven Lowy announced he would stand down and not recontest his position at November's AGM while it is expected at least three other members from the FFA's independent board could follow him out the door.
The existing board will hold its final meeting under the tenure of Lowy on October 15. Sources have informed Fairfax Media that among the items on its agenda is whether to continue with A-League expansion in light of Tuesday's reforms.
Speaking last Tuesday, Lowy praised the "range of capable and credible bidders that would be ready to expand the game under the timetable that the FFA board has set", while warning of "ramifications" of Tuesdays' vote.
Any delay in the expansion would have a major impact on sponsorship commitments and plans to secure players, staff and coaches for their creation.
It's understood that with the anticipated upheaval of the FFA board, a number of members have voiced their disenchantment at Tuesday's vote for reforms and expressed their unwillingness to make a decision on an A-League expansion process they will no longer oversee.
It's understood that the head of the A-League, Greg O'Rourke, was set to make a presentation on the bidding process he is overseeing to the board on October 15, when the board was scheduled to make its recommendation on the successful bids. That now appears to be in doubt. While some board members are eager to push ahead with expansion, others are reluctant as a result of Tuesday's defeat in the reforms process.
This uncertainty comes despite there being no assurances that three board members and chairman Lowy would hold their seats beyond November, when their terms finished and they were up for re-election. The FFA began the expansion process in March and is scheduled to announce the two new entrants into the A-League by October 31, with the timeline for the process listed public on the competition's website.
Should the FFA board decide not to elect two new entrants into the A-League at the October 15 board meeting, it's understood expansion will still take place at a later date but not before the 2020-21 season. The FFA's management team – which has overseen the process – is understood to be eager to go ahead with expansion as soon as possible if viable, so too several A-League clubs and the players' union.