Football Federation Australia has provided as explanation for the inflexibility which has blocked the path for a professional Wellington Phoenix women's team to compete in the Australian W-League.
As revealed by the NZ Herald yesterday, FFA refused to change the competition regulations to allow New Zealanders to fall outside the Phoenix's allowed quota of four foreign players and one international guest player.
In effect, that scuppered any prospect of a Phoenix team taking part, as a maximum of five of their squad could have been kiwis. With the side seen as both a development pathway for our best young female players and a representative of football in this country, that scenario wasn't one the Phoenix would consider. By contrast, the club's A-League side (and their predecessors, the New Zealand Knights) have always had an exemption, with New Zealanders not classed as imports.
In a lengthy statement provided to the Herald, an FFA spokesperson said the organisation had "concerns about initiating changes to player eligibility rules at such a late stage without having engaged in a meaningful process of consultation with APFCA (Australian Professional Football Clubs Association) and W-League clubs."
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"Furthermore, FFA (has) concerns about the impact of the change on the integrity of the competition and the ability of W-League clubs to manage playing squads so close to the commencement of the season. Under the circumstances, the current player eligibility rules will not be amended for the coming season," it said.
FFA says the request to consider the rule change was only made "in recent days", which seems curious, given planning for a Phoenix W-League side has been going on for several months.
The statement also contended that, "FFA has been a strong supporter of Wellington Phoenix since it joined the A-League and along with the APFCA, have been willing to undertake a consultative process to consider the best way forward for its involvement in the W-League. Such consultation, however, must be done so in accordance with due process and in pursuit of the best interests of the competition, all W-League clubs and for the good of the Australian game."
The strength of FFA's support of the Phoenix is open to question with former CEO David Gallop accusing the club of "squatting on a license" in 2015 and only incrementally extending the club's eligibility to play in the A-League while requiring them to hit certain metrics, not imposed on the other clubs in the competition.
The Phoenix released a statement yesterday, saying they were working with FFA on entry into the W-League "in due course". For the 2020/21 season though, which begins on December 27, that possibility is now gone.