Northern NSW Football has moved swiftly to condemn Hunter-based member zones after the Newcastle Herald made public their attempt to overthrow its board.
The Herald reported on Monday the submission of a letter from zones calling for a meeting of the NNSWF board to remove five of the six directors and replace them with their nominations. It came after NNSWF released a report on August 22 from an independent review of football in the region.
The endorsed recommendations from the report were sent to the zones, who were given two weeks to respond before they were to be forwarded to clubs. However, after Monday's story, the recommendations were emailed to clubs that day, along with a message from NNSWF chief David Eland.
"Three Hunter-based member zones have demanded a general meeting in an attempt to overthrow NNSWF's board of directors," the email read. "Hunter Valley Football, Macquarie Football and Newcastle Football plan to seize power in response to the Future of Football Review Final Report and Recommendations developed by independent change consultant Sport Business Partners.
"The recommendations, which were unanimously endorsed by NNSWF's board, positions clubs as the agents of change by empowering local clubs to determine when they are ready for reform.
"Reform is not being imposed on the football community. The plan to overthrow NNSWF's independent board is unnecessary and robs clubs of the opportunity to guide reform. Members were given exclusive access for two weeks to provide a response. Instead, the Hunter member zones moved to demand a general meeting to overthrow five of NNSWF's six directors the following day without clubs having seen the final report or its recommendations."
The Herald reported that the letter called for the removal of chair Helene O'Neill, deputy Bill Moncrieff and directors Mansell Laidler, Peter Dimovski and Sarah Gray but not remaining director, Mark Trenter.
In his email, Eland revealed that the boards of Far North Coast, North Coast and Northern Inland were not involved in the attempt to remove directors. Football Mid North Coast was not a signatory to the demand, but "two members of its board have been named as potential replacement directors."
All zones except Northern Inland, which NNSWF administer, and North Coast responded on Tuesday with a message to members. It said "we have lost faith in the direction, transparency and accountability of the current board" and they believed their action was "in the best interest of football".
"We are here to protect and uphold the independence of community football," it read. "We have always advocated for change, additional resources and support from NNSWF for years with limited outcomes."
The battle comes as NNSWF follow principle VII of Football Australia's XI Principles for the Future of Australian Football. It "identifies transitioning towards a modern, fit for purpose governance framework".
Under the report's recommendations, zone boards will eventually become obsolete and NNSWF will take direct control of all competitions. As it stands, zones administer community football, while NNSWF run senior and youth NPLM, NPLW and Northern League One, as well as the JDL program.
"The review recommends implementing a hybrid administration structure ... in the next 18 to 24 months. This will align to NNSWF's staff structure and significantly increase boots-on-the-ground resources," Eland said.
"A hybrid model ... would retain independent local governance, offices and local knowledge but all staff would be employed by one organisation.
"The report acknowledges a fully aligned governance and administration model is realistically five to 10 years down the track, with NNSWF to work together with key football community partners to achieve the reform.
"The current governance structure will be maintained until the affiliated clubs of the respective six independent zones determine that a fully aligned structure is more appropriate and better placed to serve the needs of stakeholders."
"To facilitate change in an inclusive way, the reform plan will be guided by a new Future of Football Working Group made up of representatives from clubs, member zones and NNSWF's board and executive. This working group will provide opportunities for voices from across the football community to be heard and their interests considered as we strive to transform the structures that serve our game.
"The report identifies the constraints on the game's future growth in northern NSW and provides a clear roadmap to address the issues through governance and administration reform over the next five to 10 years. NNSWF is committed to investing in a reform plan that respects the current governance structure and positions clubs as the primary agents of change who determine the speed at which reform is embraced.
"The independent review confirmed stakeholders at every level of our game reported a lack of resources and support for game development. Volunteers feel undervalued, under resourced, overburdened and disempowered. In response to this, NNSWF has listened and will kick start a reform plan across the remainder of 2022 and beyond.
Key reform plan actions include:
Proposed investment in 10 new staff located across northern NSW to support clubs, facilities, communication and coach and referee development.
Establishing Community Football Advisory Groups across northern NSW to ensure clubs are consulted directly regarding decisions that impact community football.
Establishing a Future of Football Working Group comprising of representatives from member zones, clubs and NNSWF's board and executive.
Review and clarify the Talented Player Pathway and competitions including the impact of JDL on community football in the Greater Hunter.
Centralising the administration and appointments of referees in the Greater Hunter.
Prioritising fit-for-purpose player registration and competition management systems via Football Australia.
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