UPDATE: One of the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) directors has quit, and an emergency board meeting has been called in response to the public backlash towards the body’s decision to award the hosting rights of the A-Leagues’ grand finals to Sydney.
Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro sensationally stepped down from the APL board on Tuesday as a direct result of the announcement on Monday.
“My resignation was ultimately driven by the decision announced yesterday, that sees the next three grand finals being hosted in Sydney,” Di Pietro said.
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“While I know first-hand the decision by APL was made with a view to growing the game and creating financial sustainability for the league, the fan and member sentiment has been overwhelming and I cannot support maintaining a decision which is not in the best interests of the loyal Melbourne Victory faithful and football.”
While the competitions will financially benefit from the three-year sponsorship with the New South Wales government, which is rumored to be worth more than $10 million, the announcement has been met with fierce criticism from fans, pundits, past players and A-League clubs .
According to former Socceroo and media personality Rob Cornthwaite, the APL called an emergency board meeting on Tuesday to review the delivery of the announcement.
Earlier, APL CEO Danny Townsend addressed the negative responses to the decision on ABC’s News Breakfast.
“We’re a game that needs to be innovative, we need to make bold decisions and our game has longed for a moment in time where we have stakeholders around the country that want to invest in it. In this case we had the NSW government wanting to get behind our game and put our grand finals on the national sports calendar,” he said.
“Change is hard, but we had to go and do what we thought was right for the game.”
With despondent fans already threatening to stage a walkout at Saturday’s derby between Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory, Townsend warned against protests.
“We understand that the fans are emotional about this and are passionate about the grand final structure we’ve had over the first 18 years of the league – that’s totally understandable and expected,” he said.
“The magnitude of it, I must say, was more than we expected but we would hate fans to walk out on their clubs.
“This is a league decision, our clubs were complicit in that decision but ultimately it was all designed to drive the game forward.
“We genuinely believe a festival of football in Australia – a week on the calendar where football fans can celebrate our game in one city – is something that will continue to grow the game into the future.
“We’ll work with our fans over the next couple of days to try and help them better understand the rationale behind it.”
Despite the claim all clubs were “complicit” in the decision, several clubs have condemned the call, stating their surprise at its timing.
On Tuesday, the Wellington Phoenix became the latest team to debate the funding model.
“To be clear, the agreement was reached by the APL board, which includes representatives from A-League clubs. The Wellington Phoenix were not involved in the decision making,” the club said in a statement.
“This negotiation has taken 12 months with the government so it’s not something that was thought up last week, it’s been an ongoing consideration for the league over many months,” Townsend said.
“I won’t speak for individuals and how they’ve perceived things on social media and in other settings. I think we’ve got to focus on the positives here and why we think this is the right thing for the game.
“I think ultimately, when we look back at this moment and the conviction that we’re showing as a sport to go and do something that is different … then we’ll be able to look with pride at the decision.”
Socceroos star Craig Goodwin and Matildas forward Remy Siemsen also clarified their opposition to the move after footage of the pair was used in a promotional video that accompanied the announcement.
In response, Townsend labeled the retaliation as “disappointing” but said the players were entitled to their own opinions on the matter.
“The players aren’t the ones that need to make these decisions, the leaders of the games need to stand behind these things because we’re not doing them for our own self-interest, we’re doing them because we believe it’s the right thing for the game and its sustainability into the future.”
Townsend welcomed more state governments to bid for the grand finals once Sydney’s three-year term finishes at the end of 2025.
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