OriginsInsight Edition 15

The FFA Scores for Diversity

Canberra has had its fair share of sporting drama over the past weeks – tackles from behind, own goals, a career-ending knockout blow for the captain, and a much-anticipated appearance from the sub’s bench of a central midfield player, finally recovered from a long-term injury and a rehab setback earlier in the year.

But truth is that Australians love their real sporting heroes much more than their politicians. In a previous article we considered diversity within the AFL and will focus on NRL in a future edition. But Australia’s third football code is truly the world game. The Socceroos now command significant international respect – which is more than can be said for the perpetrators of Canberra’s shenanigans.

The inception of the A League in 2005 was both the culmination of, and the stimulus for, a growth in popularity and participation in football. In 2006 FIFA estimated that 970,728 people in Australia participated in the sport and in 2013 an audit by research company Gemba found that 1.96 million Australians were actively involved in the game. But the real story lies in the diversity of those involved.

David Gallop, the FFA’s CEO claims that his version of football has supplanted cricket as the ultimate representative of Australia’s sporting persona1. As Asian champions, qualifiers for the past three world cups, and a creditable showing in this year’s Women’s World Cup, Gallop believes soccer is a more appropriate and realistic reflection of Australia’s heritage and multicultural identity.

Many of us suspect he is right, but where is the evidence to support his claims and how do they measure cultural diversity within the game?

Measuring Cultural Diversity

The challenge of collecting appropriate data on cultural diversity to support effective reporting is discussed in a previous edition of OriginsInsight .

In short, we contend that there are great efficiencies and practical advantages in using first and family name combinations to measure cultural diversity – and with lower error rates than comparable methods. OriginsInfo’s independent name analysis methodology infers the most likely cultural origin of each name combination.

With the notable exception of Indigenous Australians2, we argue that this provides the best representation of multiculturalism and an evidence-base that is more than adequate for measuring the status of diversity. Solid evidence is more likely to secure government funding and commercial sponsorship where there mutual objectives of engagement with, and exposure to, key cultural segments.

Using publicly-available sources, we compiled a data set from ‘A’ League club player lists, including non- ‘A’ League clubs who participated in the 2014 inaugural FFA Cup competition and ‘W’ League clubs for women footballers – totalling 625 players.

For practical purposes and to ensure statistical reliability, we grouped the 257 Origins categories into a smaller number of groups – Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, North West European, Southern and Eastern European, CALD3 – Non-European.

We compared the proportion of FFA players in those categories with the proportion of the Australian adult population in the same categories.  We also compared the current picture with the results we found when we conducted similar research in 2007.

To provide more detail, the 257 Origins codes have been aggregated to the 12 groups (plus ‘Other’) indicated in Table 1.


Where it is statistically valid to do so, we also drill-down to the components of the 12 groups for greater precision and insight.


As with the AFL players, as highlighted in our preceding OriginsInsight article the results give clear evidence of skewed participation in FFA at the elite level.  However, this skew is very different. Whereas AFL players continue to be predominantly Anglo-Celtic in origin, FFA players (men and women) are much more diverse. While players of Celtic heritage are broadly in line with the national picture, Anglo-Saxon players are considerably under-represented, making up just 32% of the FFA list (AFL = 57.5%, AU Adults = 47.3%).

Part of the explanation for this skew is that the FFA imports talent to boost standards in the game and ensure its successful development. Stand-out representation occurs from Southern and Eastern Europe, including Italian, Greek, Spanish, Serbian, Croatian, Czech and some Latin American. Although with smaller numbers, Arabic / North Africa and Africa are also over-represented. Among the under-represented groups are people of East and South Asian heritage.

Reflecting FFA’s poor success in attracting indigenous Australians, in 2009 the FFA set an ambitious target of achieving five per cent of players from such a background. Only two players – Jade North and Travis Dodd – currently acknowledge indigenous descent.

The overall FFA picture masks some differences between men and women. Overall, there is relatively less cultural diversity among the women elite players, perhaps reflecting the early developmental stage of the women’s game and its more limited capacity to attract and fund players from a global market, which itself is less mature than the men’s game.

Women players are much more likely than men to be Anglo-Celtic in origin. In fact, 16 of the 23 Matildas’ World cup 2015 squad (69.6%) shared such a background.  Women’s cultural diversity draws strongly on Southern and Eastern European (principally Italian, Greek and Hispanic heritage), but North-West European backgrounds are on a par with both the men’s game and the national adult population.

Returning to the men’s game, there has been little substantial change in its high levels of cultural diversity over the period 2007 to 2014.  Small increases in people of Celtic and Non-European (notably, from a low base, African, Arabic and Asian Islamic) backgrounds has been balanced by a slight fall in people whose ancestry is more aligned with Southern and Eastern Europe.

In this study Origins has demonstrated its effectiveness in measuring cultural diversity among elite FFA players, even where the number of players is relatively small.  But it would be more interesting to understand the diversity among players in non-elite leagues, Rooball participants and, indeed supporter members of the various A League clubs – providing a strong evidence-base to seek compatible sponsors.  Ongoing measurement of diversity across the FFA and the State bodies will do much to inform and monitor how well it maintains its strong diversity position.

Canberra’s politicians would do well to acknowledge the role of the round-ball code in demonstrating the positive values of multiculturalism and tolerance, and its potential to help minimise xenophobia and racism in wider Australian society.

1 Michael Lynch, The Age, Socceroos now truly the national team, 17 March 2015
2 Many of whom have imposed or adopted Anglo-Celtic names
3 Culturally and Linguistically Diverse

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