Major sporting codes often tread a fine line between protecting their brand through stringent crowd management measures, and maintaining the passion that makes each sport unique. This has most recently been highlighted in Australia by Football Federation Australia’s (FFA) recent response to alleged unruly crowd behaviour by Western Sydney Wanderers fans. As reported by Fairfax, FFA have been banning individual supporters from attending A-league games, on account of anti-social behaviour. As ABC reported, Wanderers supporter Julian Cumbo was 16 years old when he received a banning notice via email, and then post, notifying him that he was banned from attending games for five years as a result of his involvement in a brawl at a match; this, despite the fact that he had not received a police conviction from the incident. The youth’s ban – with no right to appeal – is reportedly not uncommon amongst Wanderers fans.

A leaked document published by News Corp revealed that the number of banned supporters has recently reached 200. In response to media reports of the leak, CEO of FFA David Gallop referred to the “zero tolerance policy” on anti-social behaviour at A-league matches. Many ‘Red and Black Bloc’ members are disgruntled with the outsourced banning process, particularly with the perceived lack of transparency in reasons for a ban being issued, and the ability of banned persons to appeal. What the ABC termed “mass walkouts” have occurred at both Sydney and Melbourne games late last month, and in a display of unity to demonstrate dissatisfaction with FFA’s tough-stance on crowd behaviour, many fans have chosen not to attend games. The Sunday Telegraph reported that this weekend’s Brisbane versus Western Sydney game at Pirtek Stadium was “eerily” quiet, with fans boycotting the game in response to the restrictions.

While many fans would agree that spectator safety and security is an important element of game attendance, it appears that in the view of many spectators, the sport’s governing body have taken steps to eliminate crowd safety-related brand risk from the venues, only to create another commercial risk to the sport.

In response to the ‘mass walkouts’, the FFA has announced that they will review the bans and appeals process in February of next year. Let’s hope that the conflict can be resolved and that fans can return to watch this great game in safety.