Last week’s NASL news struck the Twitter-verse like lightning. A report from Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus that the NASL may collapse within the year immediately caught fire. The story of America’s second division’s troubles was bad news for American soccer but as the smoke begins to clear it’s looking as though more people jumped on the story because of the title than the actual facts of the situation the league is in.
Only one team (Minnesota United FC) has officially stated their imminent departure with many other teams issuing statements asserting the opposite. Here is an article to look at any actual facts we know. Here is a statement affirming that Ottawa Fury FC will be in the NASL in 2017. Here is an interview with Rayo OKC’s Alberto Gallego in which he reaffirms Rayo Vallecano’s desire to stay in the league. As of now, the claims of the NASL’s demise seem to be all smoke and no fire.
However, some fans of the NASL have a much more cynical idea of why the story gained such circulation without confirmations from teams or the league.
An unconfirmed source claimed that the NASL demise story was a plant to weaken the presence of the league, which is not the first time there has been an accusation of this nature. This speculated plant came because, allegedly, FIFA has given the USSF a timetable to when promotion and relegation must be started within the American pyramid along with which leagues will be participating.
Until any official source comes forward and backs these statements, I would advise you to take them as nothing more than conjecture (or, as I’ve taken and used them: As a useful transition).
But after the recent news of FIFA’s direct involvement in the Australian federation, and what seems like its inevitable creation of a second division, it’s looking more and more possible that FIFA may set their sights on the USA.
Last Spring, members of FIFA’s administration found the Football Federation Australia (FFA) to be in repeated breach of the standards statute (which outlines federation rules for governance and democratic requirements) and flew to Australia from Zurich for two days of meetings. There, they restated their decision for compliance and demanded the necessary reforms.
The main concern for FIFA in Australia is that there doesn’t seem to be a truly democratic process within the FFA. Even though it’s required through FIFA regulation, the professional players, clubs and other stakeholders haven’t been given a whisper, let alone a real say in how the game should be run in their country. Instead, the FFA’s state bodies control all but one vote at annual general meetings. For those looking at the FFA, it looks as if the deck is stacked for those already in control.
And FIFA agrees. The world’s soccer governing body requested to meet with the players’ union and club owners in Australia, but FFA chief executive David Gallop balked at the suggestion and, as a letter seen by The Saturday Paper, dated April 11, 2016, stated, requested FIFA put off meeting with the very parties it wanted to give voice to until a later, unspecified date.
Tricky tricky, David.
Gallop’s main concern was that the meetings would be “an unacceptable risk” to an upcoming broadcasting deal negotiation. However, he noted one other important reason why the meetings would pose a problem.
“What is also critical to appreciate about our governance model is that the A-League clubs in Australia are not ‘clubs’ in the more traditional European or South American sense. They are all privately owned … and as such are ‘for-profit’ entities whose objective … is to act in the interests of their shareholders (and in doing so build the sales value of their asset) and not act in the interests of the game of football in Australia as a whole.”
What the FFA hopes to avoid is the clubs gaining a stronger voice and demanding the A-League be run independently, as the leagues in England and Germany are. The A-League generates over three-quarters of the FFA’s revenue and teams keep gaining lavish foreign investors, so the federation wants to protect their system of growth.
So far, only one document has been released in regards to changes FIFA wants to see, and instead of dealing with the federation’s governance as expected it confronts the Australian league structure.
While FIFA asserted that they will not be intervening “at this time”, they reaffirmed their stance that “promotion and relegation is of fundamental importance to FIFA”. They also noted that in all A-League clubs’ licensing it is stated that clubs will continue participation regardless of a promotion and relegation system implemented by the FFA.
FIFA essentially wrote that they understand changes from the FFA will not happen tomorrow, but that the ultimate goal of the federation should be to implement promotion and relegation. And, most importantly, the letter claimed that if the changes are not made, FIFA retains the right to intervene.
Australia’s possible mandatory implementation of a second division would ignore the exclusionary precedent FIFA set for Australia and the USA in the 2008 Congress regarding promotion and relegation. The ruling explains, “Results on the pitch decide whether a club goes up or down a level in every championship around the world except in the United States and Australia, where there are ‘closed’ leagues.”
If the tide turns in Australia and FIFA plays a role in pushing for change in the federation’s governance, including a tiered-system of promotion and relegation, the United States may be next in line.
We’ll have to wait and see what real-life effects these FIFA probes into the FFA will have on Australian soccer, but it’s hard for me to not be reminded of some parallel concerns people have voiced within the American system.
One such rule laid out in the FIFA Statutes is the obligation “to organize its own interclub competitions, in compliance with the international match calendar”. Although MLS and USSF are getting better about this, there is still major overlap between America’s top division’s club calendar and the FIFA international calendar.
Another rule that USSF does not comply with is solidarity payments. Famously, DeAndre Yedlin’s youth club filed a grievance with FIFA when they received no payment after Yedlin’s transfer from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham Hotspurs. While solidarity payments are a necessary international rule as explained by the FIFA statutes, it’s one that MLS (and USSF) have chosen to ignore for smaller American clubs, regardless of how much their teams have benefitted from them.
These are two examples of how USSF’s governance does not fall in line with FIFA Statutes, much in the same way the FFA fails to, and, if FIFA’s current probe into the Australian federation’s dealings brings about real change, USSF may be next on their list.
More pressing than a demand for promotion and relegation in the US, FIFA would more likely push USSF to comply with other statutes that the federation is not in accordance with.
But, as we soccer fans have come to learn, rules in this sport are more of guidelines. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but it seems as if the actual decider in these situations is money. There is no guarantee that FIFA will even look at US Soccer, let alone hold meetings here to correct the governmental problems they see. MLS may skate through this year without a problem and continue the international calendar clashing closed-system without solidarity payments.
What’s best for American soccer? It’s impossible for any one person to say. Although, in my opinion, as long as the US keeps its distance from the rules the rest of the world abide by we will also be keeping our distance from any significant international hardware.