Sydney FC CEO Tony Pignata has voiced his support for the current A-League fan boycotts in an open letter published on Thursday.
Pignata also criticised the way the media has handled the boiling tensions between support groups and Football Federation Australia (FFA) since a list of 198 banned crowd members were made public.
“Recent media commentary regarding 198 individuals banned by FFA from attending football games, has branded them as thugs and suburban terrorists,” he wrote in a letter published by News Corp Australia.
“This characterisation is wrong, it is provocative and, especially in light of broader world issues at the moment, it is offensive and defamatory.
“In the 10 years since the establishment of the A-League, more than 15 million people have attended games; the 198 who are currently banned equate to approximately 0.0013% of all attendees.”
Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory fans were criticised by some sections of the media for their mass walkout, however Pignata stood by their actions.
“Fans walked out of games on the weekend because the 198, who range from children under 18 through to adults, have no mechanism by which to challenge their ban if they feel they have been incorrectly banned.”
The Sydney FC CEO also asked the journalists who had “taken pot-shots” at fans – Rebecca Wilson, Alan Jones and Susie O’Brien – to join him at a match.
“Walk with me around the stadium; away from the VIP lounge or the media box, and talk to the family groups, watch kids running around or join our active supporters in The Cove,” he wrote.
“You won’t feel unsafe. You won’t feel at risk. You won’t find a suburban terrorist or a thug. In fact, you might just be surprised quite how much you enjoy it.”
The letter came after the Central Coast Mariners fan group, the Yellow Army, pledged to join Sydney FC’s The Cove and the Wanderers’ Red and Black Blok in boycotting matches this weekend in a protest aimed at FFA CEO David Gallop and the head of the A-League, Damien De Bohun.
“These are the people we are supposed to trust with taking the game forward,” the Yellow Army wrote on their Facebook group.
“However, it is going backwards at an alarming rate and to put it simply, the dressing room has been lost.
“In response to these events, we have made the tough decision to boycott our game tomorrow night and we encourage any who feels the same to do so.”
The decision to boycott games has been met with widespread approval from the competition’s players, with Sydney FC defender Seb Ryall posting his support on social media on Wednesday night.
“The FFA think they are above the law, the fans of Australia make the game and without them we are nothing.
“I hope all fans boycott the games this weekend and their stregth (sic). I dont care if your (sic) a Melbourne Victory fan or Western Sydney fan, if your (sic) not guilty of a crime you shouldnt have to prove yourself innocent.
“This problem has to be fixed and untill (sic) so, the FFA should be made to pay.”
Perth Glory goalkeeper and Professional Footballers Australia vice-president Ante Covic said A-League fans didn’t sit idly by enjoying a match like you would watch a movie.
“They participate. Other sports are envious and jealous,” he wrote in a column in Fairfax Media.
“They create an atmosphere that has propelled the A-League forward and one that is unique and the envy of the other codes. This must be cherished, celebrated and safeguarded.”