Confusion continues to reign in the wake of Chris Nikou’s comments at the recent Football Writers’ Festival at Jamberoo.
In response to an extremely perceptive question from the floor [Who asked that, Adrian? Was it by any chance...you? - Ed], Nikou said that in the absence of a breach of conditions, Central Coast Mariners (like all current Australian clubs) were guaranteed their place in the A-League until 2034.
Seconds later there was pandemonium as the penny dropped. Michael Lynch and Tom Smithies were all over him, demanding to know exactly what that meant for promotion / relegation, and his answer couldn’t have been clearer.
"Under the current licences all Australian based teams have a right to be in the A-League until 2034. ...there is no prospect of promotion and relegation until then."
Once they heard the news, Remo Nogarotto and Joseph Carrozzi immediately claimed that such a timeline was news to them and expressed their displeasure that Nikou had spoken without board consultation. However, it is pretty clear to me that Nikou was absolutely right under the current agreements.
Sometime later, Nikou and the FFA issued a clarification, suggesting Nikou’s comments were a personal view.
The clarification went on to say that the current Club Participation Agreement (CPA) acknowledged the 2034 licences, but also made provision for the possibility of promotion/relegation being introduced within that time.
This (according to some) effectively limits the 2034 licences but I would suggest that making provision for a future event, articulated in a future document, is no more than a contract to make a future contract – which in contract law is typically “void on the basis of uncertainty”.
So where does that leave us?
I would suggest that the licences as currently stated give a right to continue until 2034, so on what basis could a team be kicked out of the A-League or relegated?
North Queensland Fury or Clive Palmer might like to have a go at answering that but there are only two ways, as far as I can see, that a current (Australian) team could be relegated before 2034:
they fail to abide by the conditions of their licence; or
they consent to an entirely new licensing system under a new CPA.
As far as a new licensing system is concerned, I would assume there is still a lot of devil in the detail to be negotiated. A club owner who has sunk millions into his club will be wary of giving up his licence before he has to – especially if the new operating model allows the clubs to be more viable / profitable.
So, will the FFA under residual powers or the new controlling entity have the right to enforce a new CPA (or parts thereof) against the wishes of a minority?
Either of these scenarios portend nothing more than a legal bloodbath with the potential to really put the boot into the corpse of Australian professional football.
So what is likely to happen?
The New Leagues Working Group and the Second Division Working Group will continue their activity and report very shortly. The Second Division group will be angling for promotion/relegation as swiftly as possible, but they will have no power to enforce that without the consent of the existing clubs to a new CPA.
The New Leagues Group will be most concerned with a viable competition structure which ultimately gives more power to the current clubs. Will they truly agree to P/R before 2034?
The New Leagues Group would know of the public’s desire for P/R, the FIFA insistence on P/R and even the commercial sense (for the good of the league) of P/R.
So I’m guessing there will be reference to P/R in any new CPA but it will be hived off into the future on the basis of various contingencies (the growth of the league to 16 teams and a financially viable 2nd Division for example) and will therefore continue to have either nil legal effect or once again be void for uncertainty.
So I, for one, am defending Chris Nikou on this. He walked into a snake pit of football journos on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, and was pilloried for (among other things) his:
Slow progress over the creation of a new A-League operating model;
Refusal to elaborate on the Ange Postecoglou resignation;
Refusal to elaborate on the Alen Stajcic sacking;
Refusal to justify the FFA’s endorsement of Sheik Salman as AFC president after the Hakeem Al Araibi scandal; and
Apparent obfuscation over the voting rules regarding an abstention.
Somehow, he got a few laughs amongst all that, but he also gave an honest answer to a clear (some might even say brilliant [It was your question, wasn't it? - Ed]) question regarding the current licences and the prospects for promotion/relegation.
That answer, once known to the other FFA directors, was sadly revealing of their current state of unity and common purpose, but it must also be remembered that Chris Nikou and the rest of the FFA board will no longer have (full) control of the A-League clubs and their licences in the immediate future.
Nikou may be technically right today, but he probably won't be in a week or so.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets and will have a couple of exciting announcements shortly.