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Football Bosses Must Fix This Mess Now

28/11/2015 8:37 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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It's not often you get to see a corporate messaging exercise blow up in slow-motion before your very eyes, but it's hard to see Football Federation Australia's attempts at placating fans this week as anything but a car crash.

In case you missed it, earlier this week Sunday Telegraph journalist Rebecca Wilson wrote a story on 198 people banned from A-League matches as part of an attempt to paint a cultural problem within football.

It incensed the fans, and brought up threats of legal action against the newspaper and Wilson -- but it also opened up a debate which has been simmering under the surface for a while now.

The fact that the 198 people were banned was one thing, but the fact they had no official appeal process to go through was something simply unpalatable.

Many of the banned people have protested their innocence, and bemoaned the fact they had no right to challenge the decision in any sort of quasi-legal setting.

Active members from the Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers made their feelings known, declaring their intention to walk out on games this weekend in protest.

Across Twitter, fans still angry from the Rebecca Wilson story bemoaned the fact that they could not appeal.

Those who had tried to appeal to the FFA in the past posted screengrabs from previous emails telling them there indeed was no appeals process in place.

"Please be advised that Football Federation Australia (FFA) is not a government agency and as such the obligation to adhere to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice does not apply to our organisation. For this reason the FFA will not consider any appeal."

The email was a couple of years old, but it seemed to be pretty conclusive.

With the debate raging, the FFA then put out a statement saying that fans did actually have the right to appeal.

"Since the inception of the Banning Process, it has always been the case that if a banned person can prove that they did not engage in the relevant behaviour the ban will not apply. If a banned person can bring the evidence that proves this to FFA through their club, the ban will be lifted," it said.

Except earlier this month, A-League head Damien de Bohun said that they didn't.

The issue of fans being banned without a right to recourse had been brought up at a senate enquiry instigated by Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm dubbed the "nanny state" hearings in Sydney.

The aforementioned letter was tabled as part of that hearing, and afterward de Bohun was asked about a fan's right to appeal a ban.

"It's a general deterrent to those who cause trouble that they face long bans with no right of appeal," he was quoted as saying.

Then, of course, it emerged that two fans had sucessfully overturned bans on appeals through their clubs, with the clubs taking the matter to the FFA.

The whole episode left the question as to whether fans were able to appeal before, or even now, about as clear as mud and was a great example of corporate messaging gone horribly, horribly wrong.

This all virtually happened within 24 hours.

I wrote earlier this year that the tide appeared to be turning on the FFA's attitude towards fans. But as it turns out, nope.

The FFA is still walking the tightrope of wanting to market football as a safe, family-friendly mass market product and appealing to the passionate fans who make football unique.

The fact the atmosphere those fans create are used in FFA marketing material and used to sell the game to broadcasters makes any perceived transgression against those fans absolutely galling.

For now, it looks like the FFA is wobbling on the tightrope and it mayonly take a slight breeze to knock them off.

For incoming chairman Steve Lowy (Frank Lowy's son), this may just represent to first major perception issue he has to deal with, as if there weren't enough to deal with already.

Oh, and there are a few games on this weekend.

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