Australia no longer 'passengers' in world football, says FA boss James Johnson

The Socceroos' upcoming friendly against Argentina is key part of an overarching strategy centred on cementing Australia's reputation as a rising footballing power, FA chief executive James Johnson declared on Monday.

The two nations will face off in Beijing on June 15, a rematch from last year's round of 16 clash at the men's World Cup in Qatar in which Argentina defeated Australia 2-1. The Socceroos will then head to Wembley in October to take on England in a friendly, bookending what will be a big year for Australia after co-hosting the Women's World Cup in July-August.

"If you want a seat at the world football table, these are the things you've got to do," Johnson said. "You've got to host big competitions like the Women's World Cup. You've got to play big opposition like Argentina, you've got to play at Wembley, you've got to do that.

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"If you look at all these examples, in isolation, you might not see the strategy [but] if you bring it all together there is an undertone which is: 'We're Australia, we're here, we're at the seat now and you know, we want to stay at the world table.'

"What I'm hoping we're seen as now is sort of like a United States or a Japan in world football, where perhaps in the past we've been in the passenger seat but right now we're able to drive issues."

Though insistent that the preeminent concern in organising the fixture were footballing factors, Johnson also highlighted the potential benefits the Socceroos playing in Beijing could hold for Australian relations with China, citing the competitive advantage that football had over rival codes the AFL and NRL when it came to soft power thanks to its global reach.

Johnson has been actively lobbying governments for increases in funding, pointing to a AU$240 million federal government commitment to a new stadium in Hobart for an AFL side and contrasting it with a lack of support for a permanent home of the Socceroos and Australia's junior national teams.

"Through football, we can open up some channels and dialogue for our governments," said Johnson. "If that's a secondary objective, and if that's something that we can do, on top of the football objectives, we think that's a good thing."

However, not every reaction to the Socceroos heading to Beijing for a friendly has been positive.

Initial reports of the fixture were meet with concern by human rights campaigners and described as a "slap on the face to Uyghur Australians" by Uyghur Association of Victoria president Alim Osman, who told the Sydney Morning Herald that "doing business as usual with China is aiding the crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghurs."

Australian journalist Cheng Lei and pro-democracy writer Yang Hengjun have been detained in China since 2020 and 2019 respectively, with Beijing citing espionage concerns as the reason for their detention. Prime minister Anthony Albanese said on Thursday that "Australia will continue to make representations to China on behalf of our citizens."

The Socceroos themselves have previously used their platform to raise awareness of human rights issues, becoming the first participating team in the 2022 World Cup to call for specific action on the treatment of Qatar's migrant workers and the LGBTQI+ community.

"I would see it as, if anything, as a way to create awareness around some of the issues," Johnson said when asked about possible tensions. "China is a world power and it's of interest to any government around the world, Australia or otherwise, to foster good relationships with China.

"So I think [the game will be] be taken in the spirit in which it's meant to and that's for it to be a positive thing for Australia and for the Australian government to be able to enhance its relations and just make that dialogue, which perhaps hasn't existed too much over the past few years a little bit easier for this new government.

"I think that's a good thing."