NSW Labor MP Ron Hoenig calls for a parliamentary inquiry into children’s soccer

Ron Hoenig is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into youth soccer in NSW. Photo: Nick Moir Little boy in shorts and trainers with his foot resting on top of a soccer ball on green grass with copyspace GENERIC soccer, sport field
Nanjing Night Net

In the NPL youth league, the eastern suburbs Dunbar Rovers provides free football to elite youth players. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

A NSW Labor MP is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into children’s soccer to expose “the scandalous exploitation of local children and their parents”.

The Member for Heffron, Ron Hoenig, first addressed parliament in August this year, after learning that parents in his electorate were paying fees of up to $1100 for children as young as six to play at clubs in the Eastern Suburbs Football Association.

More than 150,000 children aged between five and 17 play grassroots soccer in NSW.

“Football clubs utilising council grounds, which in the past have been community-based [and] run by volunteers, have now outsourced coaching to profit-making soccer academies,” he said. “These private academies have infiltrated this children’s sport, exploiting parents into paying huge fees under the belief that if they pay, one day their child will play for Manchester United.”Mr Hoenig has highlighted the Heffron Hawks as one junior club that has engaged coaching services from a private soccer academy named Soccer De Brazil, where he is aware of children as young as six paying fees of $1100.

A spokesperson for Heffron Hawks said it introduced optional academy coaches to “raise the standard of training,” to which parents and players responded positively.

“Now…we offer two strands of teams, the traditional parent-coached teams and professionalyl-coached teams. The parent and players have complete choice, and nobody is forced into choosing one or the other.”

Soccer De Brazil declined to comment on its coaching with any specific clubs, however the Brazilian futsal academy said its coaches were “engaged by some clubs to coach their development programs.”

The rise of academies was raised at an Eastern Suburbs Football Association meeting on Monday, amid a discussion of proposals to address the cost of football.

“We are very concerned that for-profit groups are effectively being granted subsidised access to public grounds, while not-for-profit clubs struggle to find places to train and play,” ESFA president Sean Fenton told Fairfax Media.”The median total registration fee for an under-six player in our association is $280…we don’t think that charging nearly four times the median registration fee is reasonable.”

This week Mr Hoenig wrote to Randwick and Centennial Parklands councils, urging them to allocate playing fields “to community-based sports clubs run by volunteers in preference to any organisation that outsources or employs a soccer academy”.

His call for a parliamentary inquiry follows a Fairfax Media report into elite youth football, which raised questions about fees of up to $2400 being used to fund player wages for first grade teams.

“Everyone knows premier league clubs are running expensive junior representative football solely to put their first grade teams on the park…but now we are talking about parents paying huge fees…in the grassroots community game,” Mr Hoenig said, pointing to “poor administration” within Football NSW.

“Football NSW is a hopeless, incompetent vested interest organisation that is not fit and proper to be in charge of a junior sport.”

In its National Premier League and Youth League competitions, Football NSW sets strict rules banning clubs and players from participating in ‘non-sanctioned programs,’ such as academies, as it “cannot ensure” the delivery or quality of coaches.

However the same rule does not apply in the grassroots competition.

“Associations are separate legal entities to Football NSW and are able to make their own rules,” a Football NSW spokesperson said.

“Football NSW has rules in place that prevent grassroots clubs which have an affiliation with private academies in competition age groups from participating in competitions directly run by Football NSW.”

In response to Mr Hoenig’s allegation that Football NSW is “hopeless and incompetent”, the governing body said it thanked Mr Hoenig for sharing his views.”

As the president of Pagewood Football Club for the past 10 years, George Lundy said he had seen community club football “diminish greatly”.”The problem comes from the top of Football NSW, in regards to the programs they implemented five or six years ago; particularly the Skill Acquisition Program (SAP).”

The program for children aged 9-12 is said to “underpin” the NSW men’s and women’s National Premier League competitions.

“It used to be that your kid didn’t enter elite football until 13, but when the SAP started they could enter at under-9,” Mr Lundy said.

“This provided an opportunity for academies to approach parents, and say, I can get your kids into the SAP and premier league if you do my expensive program. “

Roy Belcher, a former president of ESFA from 2001 to 2008 and the current chairman of Waverley Football Club, said grassroots football’s biggest problem was a lack of coaches.

“We’ve got 150,000 kids playing the game in NSW and there’s just not enough quality coaches. That’s why academies are moving in.”

Mr Belcher said $1800 fees set by Football Federation of Australia for compulsory coaching licenses were “ridiculous” and turning away would-be coaches.

“I think there is a mentality at both Football NSW and the FFA that elite junior football [is needed to identify] the next Harry Kewell,” he said.

“But it’s not about having all these expensive academies making promises to a young family. What is required is that at a community level the game has good quality coaches…”

Director of junior football at the Redfern Raiders Nicholas Procopiadis said he employed an academy to administer coaching four years ago, resulting in fees in excess of $2500.

“But after a year I got away from it, I could see it was profiteering. They just want to sell everything, they don’t want to cater to those who aren’t able to afford it.”

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