The A-League, Australia’s premier football competition, can be truly sublime when it’s at its best.
But when it’s at its lowest, it’s a stark reminder of how far the game has yet to go to catch up with the rest of the world.
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There is no more ominous sign of needed progress than the state of foreign ownership of A-League clubs.
CBA investigation Four corners has revealed the backgrounds of the owners of two A-League clubs, as well as the special situation of a club whose owners refuse to identify themselves.
One club the investigation focused on was Melbourne City, who were crowned A-League champions for the 2020/21 season when they beat Sydney FC, another foreign club, in the grand final .
The Victorian team is a sister club to the European powers Manchester City and also reports to the City Football Group, all of which is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the royal family who presides over Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country with a questionable human rights record.
Amnesty International Australia’s chief executive, Sam Klintworth, told the program that Sheikh Mansour’s ownership of the city of Melbourne was a classic example of ‘sports washing’ – using sport as a way to distract others. problems.
“People associate sport with positivity, with achievement, with prowess and athleticism, with achievement, and that can be used in what we call sports washing,” Mr. Klintworth said.
“And sports wash, essentially, is taking that positive attribute associated with sports and using it to improve your reputation.
“So essentially it can take advantage of the glamor, the access, the universal appeal of sport to enhance your brand, to disguise or deflect human rights violations.”
Four corners also highlighted concerns about the Bakrie group, owners of three-time A-League champion Brisbane Roar.
The Bakrie Group is involved in mining and media, and owns the Roar through an Indonesian holding company called Pelita Jaya Cronus.
A director of the holding, Joko Driyano, has already been jailed for 18 months for his involvement in a match-fixing scandal in Indonesia, Four corners reported.
Driyano has been found guilty of telling his personal driver to remove a computer and documents relating to the investigation from his desk, but he remains listed as Pelita Jaya Cornus’ “managing director”.
The strange ownership of A-League clubs does not end there.
In 2018, Adelaide United was sold by local businessmen to a consortium of Dutch investors.
The strange part? Investors refuse to identify themselves.
Adelaide-based lawyer Greg Griffin, who was part of the 2018 sales group, admitted he had not even learned the identity of the Dutch investors.
“The only person I knew in the consortium, or the main person, was Piet van der Pol, who had been a player agent for one of our players,” Griffin said.
“He said he represented a Dutch consortium. And that’s as much information as we’ve ever been given.
“It’s clearly not ideal, and I think it’s probably unheard of in most European leagues, where the owners are very transparent.”
For former FFA corporate affairs chief Bonita Mersiades, the murky ownership of Adelaide United is part of a larger problem in Australian football as it seeks to catch up with the rest of the world.
“These are private entities operating in a sport, and sport has a level of transparency and accountability,” Ms. Mersiades said.
“We demand a level of transparency and accountability from sport because it’s something we all get involved in and it’s something we need to know who owns it, how they’re funded, how they are structured and why they are here and what they get out of it.
As sports fans grow more interested in the backgrounds of the people who lead the teams they love, calls for more transparency will only grow.
But as has often been proven in the past, calls can fall on deaf ears again.