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Who owns what? The extent of foreign investment in Australian football

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Australia’s ‘A-league’ has grown considerably in recent years, yet still lurks in the shadows of the AFL and NRL – unable to attract the sponsorship and audience of the country’s major sporting codes.

Despite this, the A-league has attracted a swathe of foreign investors who view the league as a small, burgeoning market, ripe for foreign investment and growth.

But exactly how deep these investments run throughout the league remains unclear.

A recent investigation by the ABC’s Four Corners revealed that almost half of the clubs in the A-league are owned by foreign investors – each with a peculiar backstory.

The program exposed the foreign entities funding Melbourne City, Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, as well as the unknown Dutch consortium backing Adelaide United.

Last seasons premiers Melbourne City (formerly Melbourne Heart) were famously snapped up in 2014 by the City Football Group, (CFG) the sports investment company headed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak (left) pictured with owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (centre) and vice-chairman Simon Pearce (right)

CFG own a majority stake in a range of clubs around the world – its flagship team Manchester City is a footballing giant on the English and European stage.

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and vice-chairman Simon Pearce, aside from their football interests, are both senior advisers to the Abu Dhabi government.

Al Mubarak also serves as an adviser to the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is deputy supreme commander of the nation’s military. 

‘Sportswashing’ accusations levelled at foreign investors

The United Arab Emirates have long been criticised by humanitarian organisations for human rights abuses, as well as the ‘soft power’ strategy employed by the government to portray the country as a progressive nation.

Amnesty International has called for urgent action in the A-league, accusing the City Football Group and its owners of ‘sportswashing’: using the positive publicity garnered by the success of their clubs to rehabilitate their nation’s image.

Melbourne City is one of several CFG clubs, including Manchester City, that are being used to promote next month’s World Expo in Dubai.

The Bakrie Group seized control of the Brisbane Roar in 2011.

Brisbane owners linked to match-fixing scandal

Brisbane Roar is fully owned by an Indonesian conglomerate known as the Bakrie Group, who have extensive mining, banking and agriculture interests.

Their purchase of the Roar in 2011 marked the first time an A-league club would be fully owned by a foreign entity.

The head of the Bakrie family is Aburizal Bakrie, an Indonesian politician and former chairman of the infamous Golkar political party, widely known for its history of corruption.

The Bakrie Group own Brisbane Roar through an Indonesian holding company, Pelita Jaya Cronus.

A director at the company and former acting chairman of the Indonesian soccer association, Joko Driyono, was charged in 2019 for interfering with evidence in a police investigation into match-fixing in Indonesian football.

Joko Driyono is a director at Pelita Jaya Cronus, the holding company of the Brisbane Roar.

Driyono served an 18 month prison sentence and has since been released, resuming his position on the board of directors at Pelita Jaya Cronus.

It is uncertain as to whether competition regulator Football Australia is aware of how closely connected Driyono is with Brisbane Roar, or if they are aware of his connection to the club at all.

Exactly how much money foreign investors have injected into the A-league isn’t publicly available

Football Australia relinquished control over the A-league last year, handing commercial control back to the clubs.

The wealthy business owners and global consortiums with controlling interest in clubs were given direct say in how the competition and their teams would be financed.

There are currently no figures which track investments into teams, and A-league clubs operate as private companies who aren’t required to disclose financial statements.

This leaves an obscure and often complex paper trail which poses a significant challenge to transparency and accountability in Australian football.

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