AFC avoids getting involved in NCIP debate

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Melb Knights

The Asian Football Confederation has refused to be drawn into the debate in Australia regarding Football Federation Australia’s controversial National Club Identity Policy (NCIP), which prohibits new clubs, or existing clubs wishing to change their name or logo, from using ethnic identifiers in their club name or logo.

The policy has been subject to much debate in recent weeks after it emerged Western Australian club Gwelup Croatia were advised they may be forced to change their name and logo if they were to make it to the last 32 of the FFA Cup, a claim the FFA denies. While they fell just short, falling to Perth SC 4-3 in the final preliminary round, it reenergised the debate surrounding the NCIP and its appropriateness in a country with such a proud cultural diversity.

Football Channel Asia contacted the AFC and asked if the implementation of the NCIP breached the AFC Statutes, specifically Article 3.2 in Chapter One relating to non-discrimination.

That statute reads:

“Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

The AFC refused to comment on that specific question, with an AFC spokesperson providing the following statement to Football Channel Asia.

“As a general principle, the AFC avoids interfering in sensitive cultural or historic issues in national or local football.

“The national football association, Football Federation Australia in this case, is normally best placed to address such issues, especially in countries like Australia where there is already a highly inclusive, extensive and sophisticated stakeholder consultation process in place to arrive at decisions for the benefit of football as a whole.

“Furthermore, it is our understanding that the NCIP is not a retrospective policy, and so does not affect matters at the time of its adoption, but is rather only applicable to new clubs or substantial revisions.”

The AFC advised Football Channel Asia that FFA did not seek approval of AFC before implementing the NCIP, nor has any Australian club lodged a complaint with the AFC regarding its implementation.

The most vocal opponent of the NCIP has been former NSL champions Melbourne Knights, a club with a proud Croatian heritage.

The club earned the ire of the FFA last year when it attempted to play its FFA Cup Round of 32 clash against Brisbane’s Olympic FC with sponsorship from ‘Melbourne Croatia Soccer Club’ on the front of their playing kits.

The proposal was kyboshed at the last minute by the FFA.

“After submitting the kits to FFA more than two weeks before the club’s FFA Cup match against Olympic FC, the governing body questioned three of our four kit sponsors on the basis of the National Club Identity Policy, namely Melbourne Croatia Soccer Club Inc., Australian Croatian Association Melbourne and Australian Croatian Association Geelong,” read a statement from Melbourne Knights on August 20 last year, three weeks after their 1-3 loss to Olympic FC.

“After communication between the Club and the FFA, the club demonstrated that FFA Cup major sponsor Melbourne Croatia Soccer Club Inc. is acceptable under The National Club Identity Policy (NCIP). The federation then released a memo on Thursday 24th July (five days before the match) stating that they would “only approve a Club’s Playing Strip as it appeared in their Member Federation 2014 league or cup competition, at the time of qualification to the Westfield FFA Cup 2014.”

As a result of the FFA’s decision Melbourne Knights and Melbourne Croatia Soccer Club Inc. lodged official complaints with the Human Rights Commission under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

“The FFA’s behaviour and actions during last year’s FFA Cup in dealing with the club regarding our front of shirt sponsorship was disrespectful and petty,” a Melbourne Knights spokesman told Football Channel Asia.

Almost 12 months later that process is still in motion.

“A concrete time frame from the Human Rights Commission hasn’t been given,” a Melbourne Knights spokesman advised. “The two complaints lodged against the FFA are still before the Human Rights Commission and as part of that process we aren’t in a position to comment further on the status of either complaint.”