Sunday 29 December 2019

Australia and FIFA

Leo Baumgartner (centre) heading. His arrival in Australia in 1958 to play for Prague was the catalyst for the suspension of Australia’s membership of FIFA from 1960 to 1963.

Australia’s membership of FIFA

Roy Hay

Australia is a full member of the governing body of world football, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), to give the title in French so that the acronym corresponds to the initial letters of the words. The first proposal that Australia join FIFA was put forward at the second annual conference of the Commonwealth Football Association in Brisbane in April 1914, but independent membership was not gained until fifty years later.

The world body was set up in 1904 in Paris, at the initiative of a Dutch administrator, Carl Hirschman, and a French journalist, Robert Guérin. The Football Association (FA) in England had been invited to join, indeed to take the leadership, but the four home countries, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales dithered and the Europeans decided to press ahead. International matches had already been played and in May 1904 France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, plus the Madrid Football Club (There was no national Spanish body at this time) set up the new organisation. A telegram from Germany announced that it would also join. The FA stood out till 1905 but then came in, giving the new body greater credibility, though the attitude of the home countries remained ambivalent. Scotland, Wales and Ireland were admitted to FIFA in 1910, though this was at variance with FIFA’s statutes, which only allowed for one organisation to represent a national entity.[i] England provided the second president of FIFA, Daniel Woolfall, and that helped as he led the move to have uniform laws for the game wherever it was played.

At this time Australia had no national body overseeing the game and the state associations of Western Australia, New South Wales (and New Zealand) became affiliated to FIFA through the Football Association in England. The Commonwealth Football Association (CFA) was set up in December 1911, but the news must not have filtered through to FIFA where the German Association pointed out that Australia was now a separate country and should have its own direct membership of FIFA. The German motion encouraged the Australians to set up their own organisation. The German intervention needs to be seen in the context of the strategic and political rivalry between Germany and Britain in the lead-up to the First World War. South Africa joined FIFA in 1909-10 and Argentina, which had also been affiliated through the FA became an independent member in 1912. Queensland became a member of the FA in 1912. Tasmania was also a member.

The fledgling Australian national body hoped to achieve two international objectives. The first was to attract a tour by a team from the United Kingdom or to send an Australian representative team on a tour of the home countries.[ii] The second was to take part in the soccer tournament at the Olympic games planned for Berlin in 1916.[iii] At the Stockholm Congress of FIFA on 30 June and 1 July 1912, FIFA made two decisions which had implications for Australia. The first was that affiliation to FIFA was required to take part in the Olympic Games, but the second was that separate affiliation to FIFA was not required for the colonies of mother countries. This inconsistency was to remain untested as far as Australia was concerned. When Tasmania proposed direct affiliation with FIFA at the second CFA conference in Brisbane in April 1914, the motion was defeated and it was reported that ‘Tasmania wished an affiliation made to the FIFA, but it was unanimously decided to affiliate to the FA only, as the Stockholm Congress of the FIFA declared that affiliations from colonies of mother countries were unnecessary.’[iv] As it happened the outbreak of the First World War meant that the Berlin Olympic games did not take place.

When the Commonwealth Football Association was reconstituted and activated in 1921, Australia remained a member of the FA in London thanks to Arthur Gibbs who paid the membership fee out of his own pocket.  Gibbs was the representative of Australia and New Zealand from 1910 to 1928. L H Pike was Australia’s representative from 1937. The four British associations withdrew from FIFA in April 1920 as they did not want to play official matches against their former enemies in the First World War and that decision also affected Australia. When the home associations returned in 1924, Australia was also included. In 1928 the home associations withdrew again this time over the definition of amateurism and payment for ‘broken time’. The CFA did not accept professionalism in soccer in Australia but it did not ban competition with professionals (otherwise the England tour of 1925 could not have taken place) or playing professionals from other sports. It was not till 1946 that the home unions rejoined FIFA once again.

In 1949 (?) Melbourne was selected as the host city for the Olympic games in 1956 and once again this was to be a catalyst for the reconsideration of Australia’s relationship with FIFA. By now it was firmly established that affiliation to FIFA was required for participation in the Olympic football tournament and FIFA had effectively taken over the football at the games. It took the Australian national body, now the Australian Soccer Football Association Ltd (ASFA) some time to get its planning for the tournament under way.[v] In 1954 ASFA applied for separate membership but was probably too late to have that considered at FIFA’s 29th Congress in Berne in June. Four national associations were admitted to membership—Cambodia, Hong Kong, Malaya (later part of Malaysia) and Taiwan, the last over the vehement objection of the delegate from the Peoples Republic of China.[vi] The four Asian associations were voted for separately and there is no mention in the article cited or the FIFA minutes of any other associations being admitted at this meeting.[vii]

In November 1954 the Executive Committee of FIFA met in Stockholm to consider inter alia the preparations for the Olympic games in Melbourne.

The President stated that the difficulties to participate in the Football Tournament were greater than for the 1952 Helsinki Games. He said that not more than 16 teams would be admitted. Should more than 16 teams enter for the tournament, qualifying matches would have to be played outside of Australia . This question as well as that of the general organisation and that of refereeing would have to be studied.[viii]

The final paragraph of this minute recorded: ‘The Executive Committee provisionally admitted the Australian Soccer Football Association. This decision will have to be ratified by the 1956 Congress.’ According to FIFA Statutes Congress is the body which grants membership, though the Executive Committee has the power to grant provisional membership pending approval by Congress. This decision was significant for Australia since it now gave ASFA the formal authority to carry out preparations for hosting the Olympic football tournament.[ix]

FIFA’s 30th Congress met in Lisbon on 9-10 June 1956 and under the heading ‘Definite admission of the following National Associations.’ On the recommendation of the Executive Committtee, 1. Australian Soccer Football Association, Wallsend. 2. Jordan Sport Federation, Amman. 3 Sports and Scouting Administration of Saoudi-Arabia, Mecca were unanimously admitted to membership. South Africa’s application to reactivate its membership was postponed until 1958 and another attempt by China to exclude Taiwan was rejected.[x] Australia was now a full member of FIFA in its own right.[xi]

Some confusion has arisen because of a report in Soccer News which read as follows:

FIFA Membership Approved: Olympic Requirement met

Provisional admission to membership in the International Federation of Football Associations (FIA) for the Australian Soccer Football Association was confirmed at the recent Congress of the Federation in Lisbon, Portugal. Actual membership rather than affiliation was a prerequisite to participation in the Soccer Tournament of the Olympic Games.[xii]

This can be read as indicating that provisional approval was granted at this meeting, but in fact it shows that provisional membership, granted prior to the meeting, was now confirmed as full membership. The reference to affiliation was to the previous situation in which Australia was affiliated to FIFA through its membership of the Football Association in England.

Australia did manage to host the Olympic Games football tournament successfully, though with a few problems and the home team bowed out in the second game, losing to India after overcoming Japan in the opener. However within two years it became involved in an episode which led to the suspension of the recently obtained FIFA membership.

In the late 1950s at a time of high inward migration, football participation and attendances were growing rapidly. Club teams from Europe and the United Kingdom arrived on tours during the northern hemisphere close season and played against district, state and national selections before crowds of up to 30–40,000 in Melbourne and Sydney. In 1957 it was the turn of Ferencvaros from Hungary and FK Austria from Vienna to come down under.

FK Austria brought several international players and the squad was a very powerful one. It included Julius Ondriecska, Oscar Fischer, Franz Swoboda, Walter Tamandl, Karl Kowanz, Hans Loser, Imre Mathesz, Alfred Malik, Horst Nemec, Leo Baumgartner, Rudolf Sabetzer, Karl Jaros and Tibor Szalay. FK Austria played 11 games losing two. One was to Australia in Wallsend and the other to Ferencvaros. It was reported at the time that the club had lost £5,000 on the tour. In the next two years several of Austria’s best players including Leo Baumgartner, ‘the little professor of soccer’, Karl Jaros, Walter Tamandl, Andreas Saghi (originally from Hungary) and Eric Schwarz emigrated to Australia without clearances and no transfer fees paid to their European clubs, so insult was added to injury. Three of the first to arrive Johann Neuhold, Baumgartner and Jaros were actually suspended as individuals while they were still en route to Australia.[xiii]

In Sydney, Prague and Hakoah signed up these migrants, while in Victoria, Wilhelmina, later Ringwood Wilhelmina and then Ringwood United, attracted a number of top class Dutch players including Sjel (Mike) de Bruyckere. Prague won the NSW State League in 1961 and 1963. Wilhelmina came out on top in Victoria in 1959. Baumgartner became the superstar of his day, leading Prague for a couple of seasons and representing Australia against Everton in 1964. He went on to play for APIA and Hakoah (Sydney) and later coached Yugal to a New South Wales state title in 1970.[xiv]

The arrival of these migrant players followed a major split in the organisation of the game in Australia, precipitated by the refusal of the New South Wales Soccer Football Association to promote the Sydney club, Hakoah to the first division after it had clearly won the second in 1956.[xv] A broad range of clubs and groups within the game supported the breakaway by the New South Wales Federation of Soccer Clubs, several of whose members were signing these migrant players. At that time the breakaway movement of the New South Wales Federation of Soccer Clubs was at loggerheads with the New South Wales Soccer Football Association and consequently with the Australian Soccer Football Association which held the membership of FIFA. In 1958, the NSW Soccer Football Association was the recognized body affiliated to the national ASFA, not the NSW Federation. However, in March 1959, that changed.[xvi] If, as happened, the NSW Federation allowed the players to play for Prague and the ASFA was unable to prevent this breach of FIFA Rules then Australia’s membership of the world body was jeopardised from that point.

Australia was not the only country that defied FIFA in the 1950 and 1960s. Colombia was suspended from membership from 1950 to 1956 after the formation of a breakaway league led by the Bogota club Millonarios, with the great Alfredo di Stefano as its star player. Several players were attracted from Argentina and the United Kingdom, including the England and Stoke City centre-half Neil Franklin. Another split in Colombia in 1965 led to FIFA becoming directly involved and it took over direct administration of the game in that country. It was not until 1971 that a new domestic governing body was established in that country and membership of FIFA was regularised.

The Hungarian revolution and its subsequent suppression by the Soviet Union resulted in another outflow of players to other countries and questions of compensation to clubs and associations for their ‘transfer’. The players of the Honved club even organised a tournament in South America both as a fund-raiser and to express their opposition to the new regime in Hungary. Several leading players, including Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor, were recruited by Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. FIFA imposed a two-year ban on the Honved stars, but others from the top leagues were ruled out for only one year for failing to provide transfer certificates. Players from the lower leagues were exempted. FIFA was highly involved in questions of control of the game and not disposed to allow breaches of its rules.

So FIFA was determined to enforce its control of the world game and though the president, Sir Stanley Rous, was very keen to ensure that all countries stayed within their orbit, when the Australian authorities refused to abide by the rules and pay the transfer fees even he was forced to agree to the suspension of ASFA’s membership on 5 April 1960.

On 4–5th April 1960 the Executive Committee of FIFA met in Zurich and addressed the issue of the ‘Transfer to Australian clubs of Austrian players not being in possession of the Transfer Certificate,’ and considered the Report and Propositions of the Players’ Status Committee. In the light of failure to by the Australian Soccer Football Association Ltd to apply article 12 of the FIFA regulations the Executive Committee decided unanimously to suspend the ASFA’s membership.[xvii] The suspension of Australia’s membership continued until mid-1963.

Incidentally the Asian Football Confederation was founded on 5 May 1954.[xviii] Apparently in 1960 the Asian Soccer Association (sic) was going to consider an application by ASFA to join the Asian Cup competition and that Lee Wai Tong of Hong Kong was expected to recommend acceptance.[xix]

Meanwhile, Australia was drawn to play against Indonesia in the qualifying matches for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Syd Storey, president of the ASFA, said Australia would not try to enter the Olympic Games in 1960 because it would cost nearly £20 000 to send a team to Rome and it would have to qualify by beating Indonesia home and away. This was an early indicator of the financial demands that taking part in international competition would place on Australian soccer. The tyranny of distance and the associated costs would not be easily overcome. FIFA’s suspension of Australia’s membership would probably have prevented it taking part in any case.[xx] That would also have stymied an Australian attempt to join the Asian Cup competition as a qualifying route to the World Cup in Chile in 1962.[xxi]

On 7 May 1963 the Emergency Committee of FIFA met in London and considered Australian membership as item 9. The Committee were provided with reports of a recent visit by Michael Weinstein on behalf of the Australian Federation but since nothing had been provided in writing of the required conditional changes or the statutes of the newly formed Federation, it was decided to appoint a small sub-committee under the president, Sir Stanley Rous to examine the documents, if available, at the IOC meetings in Lausanne in June and take appropriate action. If the debts were liquidated then the steps to get an Australian association back in membership with FIFA were approved.[xxii]

On 12 June 1963, Dr Helmut Käser, General Secretary of FIFA issued a press statement indicating, ‘The suspension imposed on the Australian Soccer Football Association in 1958 (sic) will be lifted as from July 1st, 1963.’[xxiii]

FIFA regards July 1963 as the official affiliation date of the Australian governing body to the organisation.[xxiv] It also says the Australian body was founded in 1961. So in a curious way, FIFA has written the previous membership of ASFA from 1954 out of its consciousness and treated the membership of the Australian Soccer Federation Ltd from 1963 as a new beginning. This is not how the history of the relationship unfolded.


[i] Scotland, Wales and Ireland were part of the United Kingdom, but their historical significance in the early development of the game and the desire of FIFA to have their participation carried the day at the Milan Congress in May 1910. Christiane Eisenberg, Pierre Lanfranchi, Tony Mason and Alfred Wahl, One Hundred Years of Football: The FIFA Centennial Book, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2004, p. 64.

[ii] The dream of a tour to the UK or a visit from an FA team goes back to the 1880s and was reiterated by F W Barlow of the New South Wales Soccer Football Association on a visit to the FA. Minutes of the International Selection Committee, 1 September 1913, Football Association, London, 1913. See also Bill Murray & Roy Hay, Australia, Greece and Olympic Soccer, in Bill Murray & Roy Hay (eds), The World Game Downunder, ASSH Studies in Sports History, no. 19, Australian Society for Sports History, Melbourne, 2006, pp. 113–151.

[iii] It wasn’t actually a clarion call by the CFA, which was dependent on the support of the state bodies. ‘Regarding the Olympic Games at Berlin in 1916, the congress strongly recommended each State to co-operate with the various local Olympic Committees, with a view to representation at Berlin. The hon. secretary (Mr. S. Lynch) was directed to forward fraternal greetings to the Australian Olympic Committee, and to assure it of the hearty co-operation of the Commonwealth Football Association, also stating that the association desired that the necessary steps should be taken for the representation of soccer football at Berlin.’ Brisbane Courier, Thursday 16 April 1914, p. 3

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 1914, p. 4.

[v] It was not only ASFA which was dilatory. There were even threats to take the games away from Australia if it did not accelerate its preparation of venues and general organisation.

[vi] Heidrun Homberg, ‘FIFA and the “Chinese Question”, 1954–1980: an exercise of Statutes,’ Historical Social Research, vol. 31, no. 1, 2006, p. 75.

[vii] Minutes of the 29th Congress of FIFA, Berne, 21 June 1954, pp. 11–12. We are indebted to Dominik Petermann of FIFA for copies of the minutes of this and other congresses and committee meetings.

[viii] Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the FIFA held at the KAK, Stockholm on 18th November, 1954, p. 7.

[ix] ‘Australia, which has previously had affiliation only with the F.A. of England, is now a fully affiliated member with the Federation de Internationale Associations (sic), the organisation which controls the soccer universe. Without this affiliation, Australia could not have controlled the soccer section of the games, but now, of course, that is all in order, and the Australian Soccer F.A., in conjunction with all States, is already hard at work to ensure success of its portion of the Olympiad.’ Bill Orr, ‘International Soccer Galore,’ NSWSFA Ltd, Soccer Year Book 1955, p. 69.

[x] Minutes of the 30th Congress of FIFA, Lisbon, 9 &10 June 1956, p. 5.

[xi] FIFA, Official Bulletin, no. 15, Zurich, September, 1956, p. 3. We are indebted to David Hearder for a copy of the relevant pages of this Bulletin, and the documents cited in several of the following references. Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 11 June 1956, p. 9.

[xii] Soccer News, 14 July 1956, p. 5.

[xiii] ‘FIFA suspends three,’ Sun-Herald, 2 February 1958, p. 38.

[xiv] In 2012 he was still coaching football. Roy Hay, ‘The Little Professor of Soccer,’ Goal Weekly, 2 May 2011, p. 9; and his autobiography. Leo Baumgartner, The Little Professor of Soccer, Marketing Productions Ltd, Sydney, 1968. Leo Baumgartner died in December 2013.

[xv] For an excellent, detailed account of the split, see Philip Mosely, Ethnic Involvement in Australian Soccer: A History 1950–1990, Australian Sports Commission, Canberra, ACT, 1995, especially pp. 25–44.

[xvi] ‘Soccer ban on five Prague stars’, Sydney Morning Herald 11 May 1959 p.18; Trevor Thompson, One Fantastic goal – a complete history of football in Australia, ABC Books, Sydney, 2006, p.79; ‘World ban guilt’, Soccer World 16 April 1960 p. 2.

[xvii] FIFA Executive Committee Minutes, Meeting of 4–5 April 1960, Zurich, pp. 3–4.

[xviii] Homberg, ‘FIFA’, p.76.

[xix] ‘If Australia joins Asia FA, (if FIFA ban is lifted) it will compete to play against Yugoslavia and Poland for the honour of going to Chile in 1962’, Soccer News, 25 June 1960, p. 4.

[xx] The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF) website notes that Australia withdrew but does not give the reason.

[xxi] Soccer News, 27 August 1960, pp. 5 & 11.

[xxii] FIFA Emergency Committee Minutes, Meeting of 7 May 1963, London, p. 3.

[xxiii] FIFA, Press statement, Zurich, 12 June 1963. In 1958 it was the players who were suspended, the suspension of the ASFA did not occur until 1960. The effect was similar.

[xxiv] Christiane Eisenberg et al., 100 Years of Football, pp. 93–94, FIFA website,, accessed 9 April 2012, email by Dominik Petermann to Roy Hay, 3 April 2012 and Minutes of the 33rd Congress of FIFA, Santiago, 26 May 1962, p. 5 & 34th Congress of FIFA, Tokyo, 8 October 1964, p. 3.

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