[OPINION] Those in charge must listen before acting

By Rafe Griffin (@griffofootball)

If the past few weeks in Australian football have proved anything it’s that we, as participants in the game, have the ability to be able to influence the decision makers when we work together for a common cause.

Firstly, it was the A-League’s active support groups that forced a re-think from FFA about a lack of natural justice for those banned from stadiums. Earlier this week, on the Queensland level, it was the decision to overturn applying age limits to the NPL Open Women’s competition.

In case you missed it, Football Queensland (FQ) originally announced in October that only five players aged 20 or over would be allowed in each club’s senior squad for the 2016 season.

Understandably, that decision caused angst amongst the women’s football community. It meant that some over-age players would either not be able to play at the senior NPL level or be forced to leave their current club.

A well-organised campaign led by some of the affected players saw upwards of 2500 people sign a petition to lobby FQ to reverse the decision. Players also sought out approaching the Anti-Discrimination Commission to seek mediation with FQ on the basis that age limits would apply to the women but not the men.

That activism realised its intended outcome with FQ stating in its media release announcing that the age limits would be removed, “…. following consultation with Football Federation Australia and player delegates, Football Queensland has determined the intended rule changes will no longer apply.”

Coincidentally, this latest FQ reversal comes almost exactly 12 months to the day after a similar occurrence in relation to the implementation of the Inter-City Challenge for elite juniors in regional Queensland. A decision was originally made that players from the ‘northern zone’ would have to travel to Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone for matches. As an example, that would have seen a situation where Far North Queensland would have to travel as far as Gladstone (and vice versa) as part of the competition, a seemingly unrealistic expectation for players as young as 12 years of age.

That proposal was originally presented to affected clubs in August 2014. The clubs advised FQ that the proposal was unworkable and it was reported that FQ would go back and re-work the proposal. Then in November 2014, the competition was formally announced by FQ with no changes to the original proposal. FNQ Heat stated at the time that no feedback had been sought in that intervening period with the club going further to say, “It remains a shame FQ have chosen to dictate rather than collaborate but nevertheless we must remain outcome-focused in the interest of the wellbeing of our game.”

After vehement representations from parents and clubs, a revised competition was announced in December 2014 with more practical expectations on the players.

Back to this latest decision. It’s great to see that common sense has prevailed and that the NPL Senior Women’s will now be a genuine open age competition, in line with the expectations of many. It didn’t need to occur like this though. Had FQ consulted far and wide before making the original decision, this whole situation could have been avoided.

It’s also not the end of consequences that could have a serious impact on the women’s game in this state. Firstly, there is now a gap for players aged between 15 and 20 who wish to be in the NPL development path. What’s a player’s next step once they graduate from the under 15 competition but aren’t yet mature enough play in the senior competition? Are they then potentially lost to the game?

Secondly, plans have been thrown up in the air just two months out from the start of the season. Trials for 2016 are underway or been completed with squads finalised in some instances, those decisions based on the competition’s initial structure. Football Brisbane has also had to rethink their approach to their women’s competition structure for a second time, delaying the plans of those clubs also. These consequences and how they have come about require further analysis on their potential impact on the code at another time.

No doubt, FQ has a difficult task. Queensland has a unique set of challenges to those of other states due to our size and de-centralised population centres. A one-size-fit-all approach that may be suitable elsewhere doesn’t necessarily work here.

What’s happened has happened and now the best has to be made out of this situation but what it highlights is that those that have responsibility for running the game must listen first and seek the views of all affected stakeholders before implementing major change.

*This is the writer’s own opinions and do not reflect the views of Queensland Soccer News or any other organisation*