For the first time in its history, Football Australia has unveiled a Domestic Match Calendar (DMC) – and its main architect believes it could be a game changer.
Developed in line with the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, the DMC aims to connect all tiers domestically, and the game globally, by harmonising key dates in the domestic football schedule with FIFA’s International Match Calendar, and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competition dates. It also sets out plans for domestic registration periods or transfer windows.
Football Australia CEO, James Johnson, unveiled the DMC last month after a lengthy process that was led by Trevor Morgan – the governing body's Technical Director. In announcing the DMC, Football Australia recognised that 2021 will be a transition year, and that it expects to achieve even greater alignment in 2022 “as COVID-19 eases” and the game considers insights from 2021.
Morgan started developing the calendar last August, along with representatives from Australia’s national teams, the commercial & legal departments at Football Australia, and representatives from the various leagues. And he says it's not just about putting dates on a calendar.
"We want to promote improved awareness, collaboration and alignment of football activities across the Australian football landscape,” says Morgan. “This is a starting point for conversations as we look to maximise the opportunities available to us.”
This idea of collaboration is expected to be rolled out further when the next calendar is released for 2022.
From the MiniRoos to the Westfield Matildas, Football Australia contends that a DMC with full buy-in from football stakeholders is essential to driving growth in all areas of Australia’s football ecosystem.
“An example would be that the NPL competitions around the country mostly kick off at different times,” says Morgan. “When we produce future versions of the DMC, our target will be for the NPL competitions to commence together and align with other events on the calendar – from national teams, to the A-League and Westfield W-League, and in the future, a National Second Tier.”
The need for the DMC is further underlined by the fact that in 2021, national team activity crosses over with an important part of the senior club football season.
"A lot of activity will take place in June this year – we've got windows for national teams for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, preparation for the Olympics, and this is happening at the same time as the A-League Finals Series,” says Johnson. “The DMC allows us to plan longer-term – one, two or three years in advance, so that we can try to reduce the amount of conflicts in the calendar.”
In 2022 there is a FIFA World Cup™ to accommodate (in November of that year), then a home FIFA Women's World Cup™ in 2023, so the juggling of dates will become even more intense. Does the Westfield W-League – for example – finish at its current time of March/April, or extend towards July, to give the Westfield Matildas the best possible preparation for that World Cup on home soil?
Morgan believes this is where alignment will help – so long as everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, including broadcasters.
“In accordance with FIFA rules, clubs worldwide must release players for FIFA windows and AFC competition dates, so we believe it is in Australian football’s best interests to work together to achieve greater calendar alignment and avoid unnecessary clashes,” says Morgan.
“By observing FIFA and AFC dates, our professional clubs would benefit from not losing players for key matches and having their players exposed internationally, while the players would benefit from having the opportunity to increase their match minutes and profile at both club and international level.
“And we believe that there are benefits to be had for broadcasters, too. From integrating national team content into their scheduling, to highlighting other areas of the sport throughout the international breaks.”
Part of that complementary content could be a new National Second Tier competition – and Football Australia CEO, James Johnson, confirmed recently that the governing body remains firmly wedded to the concept.
"There is a commitment from Football Australia to move in the direction of a National Second Tier competition,” says Johnson. “I don't think the debate any longer is should there be one or shouldn't there be one. The question now is what does the model look like and when would it commence?"
Morgan adds: "The FFA Cup is the most uniting part of the game at the moment, so why wouldn't we want to make a Second Tier happen? We're now trying to get a good picture of what it would look like. The gold that has come out of the pandemic is that there is now football nearly every night, and younger players are playing. It’s great to see fans and the media commenting about how good it is to see young players, and they are making an impact, scoring goals.
“National Team staff are monitoring match minutes in the A-League and Westfield W-League in relation to the Performance Gap reports. In both Leagues, players under 23 have increased their match minutes by at least 40 per cent%. If this continues it will have a tremendous effect on national teams.”
No question, a possible Second Tier represents an opportunity for ambitious players, clubs, administrators, referees, back-room staff, and volunteers alike. But it would also help football to make a more compelling case to current and prospective partners.
"If we align the game, it can help everyone in terms of sponsorship and government support,” says Morgan. “Our narrative will be clear – from youth football, NPL, National Second Tier, the A-League, the Westfield W-League, and our iconic national teams.”
The DMC aims to be a forum where stakeholders can come together and discuss all these issues in a simplified way. It should enable the game to be more focused and coordinated – and help to finally unlock its vast potential here in Australia.
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