The Futsal Landscape in Australia: Episode 8

‘Futsal is one of the fastest growing sports in Australia!’

We’ve all heard this statement before, right?  –  And we desperately want to believe it.  However, is there any real substance to this statement?  What’s the evidence to back this up?

Well, we’ve done the research and the results might shock you.

There is anecdotal evidence showing futsal was on the rise until around 2015-16 followed by a short plateau in 2017.  Sadly, the figures show a downward turn from 2018.  It needs to be stressed that the use of the term ‘figures’ in the context of futsal participation in Australia is a very loose figure of speech.   There is no real data with accurate numbers of actual futsal participation in Australia.  The only figures on public record are those published by Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the state football federations.  As we know, futsal players registered with their state football federations represent only a portion of players participating in various independent club and school leagues around the country. 

The Australian Sports Commission SportAus website lists a number of downloadable participation data tables.  Of the 132 sports listed futsal doesn’t even get a mention and we can only assume it has been absorbed into the Football/Soccer category.  The word ‘futsal’ or even ‘indoor soccer’ is never mentioned in its own category.  However you will be pleased to hear that fishing, flying disc, parkour, roller derby, rope skipping and scootering all have listed participation data.

This is the cold, hard reality of where the sport of futsal sits in the overall sporting landscape in Australia.  Outside our small but fanatical fan base, futsal is not even a blip on the radar.  

Using the only figures available we’ve conducted a comparative analysis of participation numbers of futsal players registered with their state football federation.  In the absence of data from independent futsal providers this is the only data that can be used as a reference point.  Figures were extracted from state football federation annual reports and the FFA 2018 National Participation Report.  It should be noted that discrepancies were detected between state and national figures.   See the below table:

STATE 2017 Futsal Participation 2018 Futsal Participation
ACT 4,829 3,590
NSW 12,979 7,750 (FBNSW) 6,716 (FFA)
VIC 1,678 26,272 (likely error)
QLD 6,649 5,883
WA Nil recorded 152
NNSW 166 327
SA 1,677 1,577
TAS 2,500 2000
NT Nil recorded Nil recorded

These figures paint a clear and alarming picture.  Further to this, it seems 2019 is no better with local futsal clubs in some parts of Australia reporting numbers lower than 2018.  So why the drop in numbers? 

Have players moved to independent futsal associations where no real data is available? Or are we simply losing them from the sport?

The football season is getting longer each year.  Just as the dust settles at the end of the football season in September clubs begin pre-season trials and friendly matches in October.  Are players simply too fatigued to play futsal over the summer?  We’ve known for years that the extended football season creates a clash and many players drop out of futsal, or don’t play at all, due to the fear of missing out on football selection.  Gone are the days where players played futsal during the summer to keep their skills and fitness up in preparation for the next football season.  For many players, they are forced to make a choice – football or futsal.  They can’t do both.  We all know which one they ultimately choose.  Why? Maybe because they see no genuine pathway in futsal to make the full time commitment.  Maybe their anti-futsal football coaches place pressure on them not to play futsal due to their perceived ‘increased chance of injury’.

In 2017-18 there was a marked increase in marketing around ‘summer 6s’ football.  It has now been rebranded to ‘Summer Football’ and generates revenue for football clubs during the off season.   It is no coincidence that with the heightened marketing around summer football and $0 registration fees to lure players that participation numbers in futsal have dropped.  Why would anyone play futsal when their football club is enticing them to play 5-a-side summer football at a fraction of the cost? Sky rocketing indoor venue hire costs and registration fees cannot compete with the far cheaper option of playing 5-a-side football at their local club.  As a futsal community all we can do is promote the advantages and point of difference that futsal offers and hope that players still come.

Australian Futsal community – this is a wakeup call.  Open your eyes!   While we continue to bicker among ourselves and splinter the sport even more we are all gradually being squeezed out by other sports and 5-a-side outdoor football.  We all blindly profess to be ‘focusing on developing players’ yet we turn our backs on the reality.  Without a unified brand of futsal in Australia, without common goals and collaboration the sport of futsal will never truly flourish.

If we honestly cared for the future of our great sport in this country we would all leave our egos at the door and come to the table and negotiate a blue print where all futsal associations operate under a unified banner.

‘Ha! That will never happen!’ you’re saying to yourself right now.

Really?  Why not?

If the heads of all the rival futsal associations came together, free of self-interest and bias, it would be possible to negotiate a unified and collaborative outcome. 

While pig-headedness, short sightedness and self-interest remain it will never happen.

In the next episode we will present a draft blueprint as to how this could work.  The time for complaining and kicking the dirt is over, it’s now time to come up with solutions and to act.