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Jack Reilly exposes the fault lines at the heart of Football Federation of China board and governance

Former FFA head Frank Lowy has been described as an “autocratic chairman” running a “compliant board” by former board member Jack Reilly. Photo: Craig GoldingJack Reilly is a legend of n soccer. He was the goalkeeper in the 1974 Socceroos World Cup team, a team of part-timers whose hard work and attitude took them to the summit of the game.

He has spent his life working to develop and establish the sport in this country, including spending seven years on the board of Football Federation and four on a key FIFA committee.

But such is the Scots-born Reilly’s disillusionment with the FFA administration, the leadership of the sport and, in particular, the lack of consultation with all stakeholders that he has asked to be removed from the sport’s Hall of Fame four times.

Reilly is bitter about the way he was pushed from the game’s top table without consultation and angry that soccer is not capitalising on the popularity of the A-League, nor converting its giant participation-rate into a broader fan base for the game.

He is frustrated by the losses incurred by the A-League club owners and angry at the governance structures – now finally being challenged by the clubs, the state federations and the participants – which allowed the board to run in what he describes as “an insular and less than democratic manner”.

Now in his mid 70s, Reilly, a successful businessman after his playing career (he worked in the financial services sector and was a money markets professional and Victorian and Federal government Treasury advisor) is still committed to growing the game any way he can.

But he fears that the mindset of the board and “outside influences” will prevent it from developing in an independent and transparent fashion.

Reilly has spoken about his years of frustration and of the need for accountability at the top levels of the game. But his questions remain unanswered.

Fairfax Media has seen a comprehensive dossier of the letters, emails and memos Reilly sent to his FFA board colleagues over several years, (including to the new board which took control after his dismissal three years ago) warning them that the creation of an inner cabal and the lack of proper governance structures was hampering the growth of the game.

“I must put on record my analysis of my time on the board of the FFA. My whole life has been about honesty in business, this submission reflects this,” he writes, as a prelude to a 36-point litany of complaint outlining the problems he says the board had ignored or created for itself due to lack of wide debate.

He also admits that by his failure to rock the boat back then he must take some of the blame.

He characterises the former FFA head Frank Lowy as an “autocratic chairman” running a “compliant board”.

Reilly says he was “totally puzzled” by the refusal to allow debate on corporate governance and the lack of any “significant reporting” on the World Cup bid to the rest of the board by a bid committee featuring three board members.

The former goalkeeper, a member of the FFA’s audit committee, claims he queried payments made to Jack Warner, the now-disgraced head of FIFA’s North and Central American soccer federation, during the failed bid to host the World Cup. He says he was informed at the time that the federal government, which had invested $45 million of taxpayer funds into the project, was aware of the payment to Warner.

He acknowledges that he was hurt and embittered by the manner of his dumping – “dismissed by email, no discussion with me or the board” – and expresses disgust at the amateurish World Cup presentation in Zurich when only received one vote in its bid to host the 2020 tournament.

He says that the full board had never been shown the video of Paul Hogan stealing the World Cup on a motorcycle – a presentation which resulted in widespread embarrassment in – before it was shown during the bid process in Zurich at which Reilly was present.

Reilly says that state presidents and A-League club owners were treated in a “diabolical manner” in official meetings and that the FFA was run with a “total lack of process” in which there was a “lack of delivery on set targets and little in the way of a review process. I never attended one strategy meeting in six years.

“I queried things which I considered to be wrong and was treated like vermin because of it … apologies for misreading the politics. But some $3.1 billion has been spent on developing the A-League and the wider game in the past dozen years, and at least $315 million has been lost to bring the game to its present level: is that a success? No, the game cannot afford it.”

Reilly’s blueprint for a remodel of the game’s governance structure would see the removal of the state federations with one controlling national body with professionally managed offices in each state and a totally independent A-League.

“The game must rid itself of the political nature of the debate, the in-house self-fulfilling decision-making process and the financial destruction of its base,” he says.

“It is time for all to be held totally accountable. The game must eradicate from its thinking the self-serving individuals at all levels who believe that secrecy is the way forward. The only thing that matters in football is sustainability and success, and the providers must be treated with respect.”

Reilly’s words will resonate strongly with A-League club chiefs who are agitating for root-and-branch reform of the FFA board.

Steven Lowy, who succeeded his father as FFA chairman 15 months ago, has said he is prepared to change the governance structure, but only up to a point.

There is now a mood of disillusionment throughout the game at the inertia of the sport’s governing body on a number of crucial issues, and not just those of governance which Reilly excoriates in the papers obtained by Fairfax Media.

Expansion looks as though it has been put on the back burner for at least two years, while the FFA is not yet prepared to cede complete control of the A-League to the clubs nor to increase the amount of cash it provides in the shape of TV money distributions.

It argues that it has a whole of game responsibility, while the clubs point out that without them, there would be no big TV deal.

Many of the issues Reilly highlighted from his seven years on the board remain to be addressed and he believes that the only way to resolve this is by open, transparent debate – which would give David Gallop the chance to lead the sport into a bright future.

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