After months of speculation, Football Australia CEO James Johnson has confirmed that Australia’s crucial World Cup Qualifying home fixture against China will not take place in Australia due to government concerns over quarantine exemptions and the need for players and staff to be protected by a sophisticated bio-security bubble.
Johnson revealed to the media on Thursday night that the FA had brokered a deal with the New South Wales government to host Australia’s September 2nd match against China in Sydney before the Berejiklian government withdrew from the agreement at the eleventh hour.
“At the very start of the process we reached out to all parts of Australia, we spoke with the federal government and we spoke with state governments that we thought would be more open than not to hosting in Australia.
“We were very confident until almost the last minute that we would be playing in Sydney, even as early as the start of last week we thought we were playing here despite the lift in COVID cases.
“What we are asking government and what we need government to change is we need them to allow the Socceroos to play within a bubble against another national team within a 4 day period where they would come in, they would play against the opposition and they’d be in a bubble.
“The NSW government had notingly supported this, but couldn’t justify the allocation of police and security required to make the bubble happen.
“We were informed only last week that this was not possible for September,” declared Football Australia’s CEO as he bemoaned the more difficult path to qualification that relocation poses for the Socceroos.
Speaking candidly on the barriers that stand in the way of playing the fixtures at home, Johnson demanded that governments across Australia adopt an evidence-based approach to inform their decision making on the matter.
“We want the government at both federal and state level to really act on facts, figures and logic,” Johnson expressed frankly.
“What we don’t want is we don’t want governments to act on optics because we have medical evidence that says the risk of us playing at home is zero to almost none, there is no community risk in transmission.
“They (the players and staff) wouldn’t touch the community so the transmission possibility is zero to very very low.”
Continuing to express his disappointment at having to move the Socceroos’ fixture overseas, Johnson implied that there were ulterior motives behind various governments’ decisions to not host the September fixture.
“For it not to happen is extremely disappointing because I don’t think us not being able to play in September at home is due to medical risk to be absolutely honest.”
Despite the disappointment involved with not being able to play at home, the FA has measures in place to ensure that September’s fixture against China occurs somewhere within the Asia region.
“We’ve always had a plan B and plan C so we’re looking at some venues and countries in the East and also in the West [of Asia].
“We’re looking at Hong Kong, we’re looking at Singapore, we’re looking at Qatar and we’re looking at the UAE.
“We will be able to play somewhere but it’s extremely unfortunate that we’re having to go abroad to find a home away from home,” emphatically posited the head of the FA.
In a more positive note, Johnson also revealed that he is cautiously optimistic that Australia will be able to host World Cup Qualifying fixtures before the end of 2021.
With crucial home matches against Saudi Arabia and Oman to come before the end of the year, it is of the utmost importance that Football Australia secures a deal to play these games on home soil because it will greatly increase the Socceroos’ chances of qualification for football’s greatest tournament.
“We will do everything we can to make this happen…we are confident that we will be playing at home by the end of this calendar year,” optimistically announced Johnson.
Pointing to strategies employed by fellow Asian countries, the FA’s CEO suggested that the government must find a way to achieve an equilibrium between community safety from COVID and the need to play crucial qualifying fixtures at home.
“This (not being able to play at home) is something very specific to Australia because if you look around the world and in our groups, Oman, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, each of these countries’ governments are celebrating the return of their national teams to play in their own countries.
“They’re finding ways to ensure that the community remains safe on one hand but they’re able to play at home on the other.
“This is the step we’re hoping we can work through with the government and break through as early as October,” Johnson shared optimistically.
However, the codification of a bio-security bubble will be a complicated process that is unique to the footballing world as Australia looks to establish itself as a trailblazer in this area. Johnson even went onto reveal some of the extraneous measures being discussed with regards to maintaining the bubble.
“The detail we have got into with government is right down to nets at stadiums and green zones and red zones and it’s so advanced that I can honestly say it would be the most complex bio bubble that world football has seen.”
Despite all of this doom and gloom, Australian football fans will look to remain optimistic alongside James Johnson as the Socceroos aim to kick-start their 3rd round World Cup Qualifying campaign with a victory against China on September 2.