Fairer funding model for grassroots Australian Football.

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"There is no accountability here, none... No oversight where the money is spent... An obvious rort that is open to abuse." Professor Anne O'Connell, University of Melbourne.(1)

"Absurd and obscene." Chief economist at Australian Institute, Richard Denniss. (1)

As a fan and therefore a stakeholder, of the sport of Australian Football, I believe that the recognised National Governing Organisation (NGO) for the sport of Australian Football (Australian Football League Limited ACN 004 155 211.) is not meeting the publics expectations regarding funding and support to the sport of Australian football at the grassroots level.

We call for a review into the governance and funding models for the sport of Australian Football, to fall more in line with International Standard Practices and for Australian Football at the grassroots level to receive a baseline level of funding.

It seems unfathomable that the NGO of Australian Football has no legal responsibilities, no baseline amount of funding (minimum % of turnover/ profit), no KPIs or any form of measured objectives to meet when it comes to funding and supporting the sport at grassroots levels.

We call for Australia to adopt a model which is more in line with International Standards. 

If you look internationally at the standard practice for governing bodies, it seems that companies are not allowed to hold a governance role. All examples that we can find (FIFA, FIBA, ATP, ICC etc.) are either independent associations, federations, unions, boards or councils. From the information that we can find, it appears that Australia is an anomaly in that we allow a company to be recognised as the peak body, governing organisation.

We feel that there is an immediate conflict of interest when a company is given total, unquestioned control over an industry/ sport. In any situation where the NGO is faced with a dispute or complex decision, do you think that that company will act in the interests of the sport as their NGO role suggests they should, or in the interests of their companies bottom line, profits and market share?

Nowhere else in the world can we find an example where the company that owns the elite professional competition also has the role to support the sport at grassroots levels.

We also feel that the allocation of funding for the Sport of Australian Football does not fall in line with the generally accepted model of the allocation of public/ tax payers money in most other industries / sectors in this country.

Generally, there are standard practises for groups that receive public funding,

1. Funding should be equally accessible for all community groups.

- Currently the AFL receives 100% of public funding for the sport of Australian Football. There are no clear pathways for some community groups to access this public funding.

2. A clear and transparent process with defined criteria and procedures should be followed.

- The AFL has complete discretion as to where money is allocated. There are no apparent processes as to where and how much funding gets allocated.

3. Judged by an impartial committee.

- The AFL Commission was initially intended to be independent, but those same Commissioners are listed as board members of the company AFL Limited.

4. Accountable to a higher regulatory authority.

- The AFL are a self-regulating body and have no higher authority to answer to. Any dispute is handled internally by the board of AFL Limited. No one does any checks or balances on the AFL.

When the AFL were granted control of the game it was intended that the profits from the elite competition would support the game at grassroots level. Instead the association fees for grassroots clubs and leagues continue to rise and it seems that the AFL is profiteering from grassroots football and using those profits to fund AFL ventures in Queensland and New South Wales.

Grassroots football clubs and competitions are screaming out for an injection of funding and continually get ignored, yet somehow, the AFL can pump $100s of Millions of dollars into the Greater Western Sydney Giants FC and the Gold Coast Suns FC. The AFL are part owners of those clubs and have moved their own people into positions of power at those clubs. 

In which other industry/ sector in this country are government funds allowed to be given to subsidiary companies owned and operated by the body that is allocating those funds? In some circles this could be considered a misappropriation of public funding.

We feel that although one brand/ company of Australian Football is booming the sport of Australian Football is struggling at every other level. Many football insiders would tell you that Australian Football is dead and it’s been smothered to death by one corporation. Soccer and netball have overtaken Australian Football in Participation rates at grassroots level and our great sport will fall further behind unless we end this inequality.

It is our understanding that the AFL are the custodians/ gatekeepers of the sport of Australian Football. We don’t believe that it is the NGOs role to own everything in the sport, but to support, accommodate and promote the sport as a whole. If they’re only opening the gate to their own brands products, then are they acting in the true spirit of the NGOs role?

In conclusion we call on the Federal Minister for Sport and the relevant powers that be to review the governance and funding models for the sport of Australian Football and to ensure that grassroots football in this country is supported to the publics level of expectation.

(1) Herald Sun, "Open to abuse - Experts slam AFLs tax free rort" 4/03/2018. https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/open-to-abuse-experts-slam-afl-s-tax-free-rort-20180304-p4z2rx.html



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