Australian TV presenter and football identity Lucy Zelic has blasted the Australian Professional Leagues' (APL) decision to move the A-League grand finals to Sydney for the next three years, labelling the move "despicable and "disgraceful". APL bosses have stood by the decision in the wake of overwhelming backlash from the Australian football community, including A-League clubs and fans.
Announced on Monday, the APL board's lucrative deal with the NSW Government - said to be worth around $20 million - faced immediate criticism from fans and players and broke the A-League's tradition that saw the highest-ranked men's or women's team in the respective competitions host the decider.
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Opposition to the deal been so fierce that APL board director Anthony Di Pietro was left with little choice but to resign from the role on Tuesday, with the Melbourne Victory chair insisting his priorities lay with Victorian football.
APL chief executive Danny Townsend says the A-League Men's (ALM) and A-League Women's (ALW) clubs were complicit in the arrangement and that the deal was struck to establish a new tradition for the competitions - not to mention the level of financial stability that comes with the multi-million dollar agreement.
However, Zelic is not buying any of the explanations from the APL and says the widespread condemnation of the controversial move proves that football fans around the country have been left feeling dudded.
“They (the A-League) sold their soul,” Zelić said on SEN 1116's The Run Home. “There is nothing great about this decision. The A-Leagues can dress this pig up as much as they like and they can call this turd whatever they want, it’s still a turd.
“It’s disgusting, it’s despicable, it’s disgraceful and it’s a slap in the face to football fans who have genuinely stood by their teams in this competition for all these years. We (as a sporting code) have absolutely ridden these fans through the ringer.
Zelic said one would only have to consider the absurdity of an all-Melbourne A-League grand final being played in Sydney to see how ludicrous the deal is. She also highlighted cost of living pressures and the unrealistic financial burden a Sydney grand final would represent for travelling fans and families from two interstate teams.
“Let’s say for example that Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City are in the final; you are going to force fans to find accommodation and flights. Who’s going to fork out $800 to go up north and back with your family? The cost of living is through the roof. Do you think a bunch of Sydneysiders will watch two Melbourne teams duke it out? They aren’t going to give a crap.”
APL standing firm despite fierce opposition to move
Melbourne Victory chair Di Pietro stepped down from the APL board on Tuesday night after claiming that staying there would have impinged on his ability to serve Victorian football fans' interests and along with Victory managing director Caroline Carnegie, pleaded with the APL to reverse its decision.
"While I know first-hand the decision by APL was made with a view to growing the game and creating financial sustainability for the League, the fan and member sentiment has been overwhelming," he said.
"We have urged APL to pause this plan and consider an alternative that supports the growth and stability of the League while also allowing both the Men's and Women's A-League Grand Finals to continue to be played in the city of the highest ranked qualifier."
Di Pietro's comments were not enough to sway the APL, which released a statement of its own late on Tuesday night justifying the contentious grand final move. The remaining A-League club representatives sitting on the board were listed as signatories, including Perth Glory chair Tony Sage, who told AAP on Monday that the decision had "disenfranchised" fans.
"The Australian Professional League (APL) Club Chairs met today to reaffirm their support for the partnership with Destination New South Wales (DNSW)," the APL's statement read.
"As a result of the consensus achieved in this meeting, APL is committed to this new and significant partnership and the resulting generation of important new funds for football - all of which will be invested into the growth of the game."
The statement comes after Victory and Melbourne City fans revealed plans to protest the grand final move by staging a walkout in the 20th minute of their derby this weekend.
Despite the APL chief's insistence that clubs were consulted before any decision was made, reigning ALM champions Western United and Wellington Phoenix - both unrepresented on the board - have lashed the move.
"We do not support the A-League Men's, A-League Women's or the E-League grand finals being played in Sydney for the next three seasons," a Western United club statement read.
"Western United is a young club that is being built for the football fans in the west of Melbourne and Victoria.
"We strongly believe that they are entitled to attend a grand final in their home state should we be successful in earning the right to do so."
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