An open letter from Sydney FC Chief Executive Officer Tony Pignata.
Recent media commentary regarding 198 individuals banned by FFA from attending football games, has branded them as “thugs” and “suburban terrorists”. This characterisation is wrong, it is provocative and, especially in light of broader world issues at the moment, it is offensive and defamatory.
No-one involved with football in Australia condones anti-social behaviour. That is why we have a banning process.
In the ten years since the establishment of the A-League, more than 15 million people have attended games; the 198 who are currently banned equate to approximately 0.0013% of all attendees.
The fact is that the A-League environment is one that is fun, relaxed, safe and secure, and we aim to keep it that way. The overwhelming majority of football fans are good, decent people who love their team and attend matches for a family outing, for entertainment and to spend some time with friends.
Different supporters enjoy their football differently. Many kids just love to run around the perimeter of the field hoping to catch the eye of their favourite player. Many adults like to follow every ball that is kicked or headed, every run off the ball, and applaud, cheer or jeer as they see fit. And there are also the passionate, loud, terrific active supporters who give football that something extra-special which other sports cannot hope to do. All of these supporters are welcome any day at Sydney FC, and any other A-League club.
Fans who walked out of games on the weekend have also been criticised on the basis that they support the 198 individuals. This is also wrong.
Fans walked out of games on the weekend because the 198, who range from children under 18 through to adults, have no mechanism by which to challenge their ban if they feel they have been incorrectly banned. The rule of law suggests that they should be afforded the presumption of innocence and natural justice would see them have their proverbial day in court. The current regulatory framework doesn’t allow this to happen; and this is why A-League fans made a silent, peaceful and effective protest on the weekend.
Fans want to see an appeals mechanism introduced, not because they support the anti-social behaviour of a small number of fans but because people should have a right to contest the claims against them.
Every A-League club works professionally and diligently with active supporter groups, police, venue management and FFA and their security advisors to ensure a fun, family environment at matches. We do not welcome those who want to behave badly. Neither do 99.998% of the fans who attend.
I invite Rebecca Wilson, Alan Jones, Susie O’Brien or any of the media representatives who have taken a pot-shot at the A-League in the past week or so, and who have used defamatory terms such as “suburban terrorists”, to join me at a match any time. Walk with me around the stadium; away from the VIP lounge or the media box, and talk to the family groups, watch kids running around or join our active supporters in The Cove.
You won’t feel unsafe. You won’t feel at risk. You won’t find a “suburban terrorist” or a “thug. In fact, you might just be surprised quite how much you enjoy it.
Tony Pignata is Chief Executive Officer of Sydney FC