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Is the A-League prepared for sportswashing?

With Premier League clubs being used to rehabilitate reputations for foreign entities, could the same happen in the A-League?

This month, Newcastle United became the richest club in world football – due solely to majority ownership by the Saudi Arabian Foreign Wealth Fund. With Premier League clubs being used to rehabilitate reputations for foreign entities, could the same happen in the A-League?

World football has a problem with ‘sportswashing’ – which the Macmillan dictionary defines as “when a corrupt or tyrannical regime uses sport to enhance its reputation” – as exemplified by the purchase of Newcastle United by the investment arm of the Saudi Arabian government.

This same government assassinated journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkish consul in 2019, and now they have been allowed to purchase a football club in the world’s most-watched sporting league to rehabilitate their reputation on the world stage.

The World Cup in Qatar might be the biggest sportswashing event of all. The host nation of the 2022 tournament has a horrid reputation with human rights abuse, and over 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country since the World Cup was announced, with the total number likely significantly higher.

Countries like Australia will have no qualms sending their national teams – helping legitimise Qatar on the world stage and sportswashing away the human rights abuse and death toll that the event has created.

Australian football – and the A-League – will face a reckoning with sportswashing in the future, the question is how can it be combated?

Australian football has fought its fights against possibly malicious owners, both domestically and foreign. Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler promised the world, but left the Gold Coast without a club – and the Newcastle Jets penniless respectively.

Clive Palmer left Gold Coast United in ruin.

Foreign owners have also done their damage. On January 4, 2021, Martin Lee’s ownership of the Jets was terminated after he failed to inject any money into the club since October 2019, while also failing to pay any of the club’s debts.

ABC’s Four Corners revealed a director – Joko Driyono – for the company that owns the Brisbane Roar with the Bakrie family – was jailed for 18 months for match-fixing Indonesian football matches.

According to Indonesian business records, he remains the president director of Pelita Jaya Cronus, the holding company for Brisbane Roar.

Joko Driyono, director of Brisbane Roar’s holding company, spent 18 months in jail for match-fixing.

Does the ownership model of the A-League create accountability for owners, and do Australia’s corporate regulators do enough to ensure that malicious owners can’t drive clubs into the ground for personal profit or gain?

Take the Martin Lee example. Under the current franchise model of the A-League, he has no personal liability for the debt accrued by his ownership, and faced no repercussions for running the club into the ground before the A-League took back the license.

Former Newcastle Jets owner Martin Lee was forced to hand back the club’s license.

He simply abandoned the club after it was no longer of use to his business interests in Australia, and returned to his home country.

The A-League must avoid this as an example, while also ensuring that promises of rich domestic benefactors are balanced against the likelihood that it could be too good to be true.

The current franchise model does have its advantages, in regards to the Australian Professional Leagues having the power to take back the license of a runaway club like in the case of Clive Palmer’s Gold Coast United, or when an owner fails to inject money like Martin Lee.

Currently, the vast majority of NPL clubs are run by a board of directors who are personally liable if funds go missing, or the club goes into severe debt.

Melbourne Victory is the only publicly listed company in the A-League, and that ownership model brings responsibility to shareholders and liability for directors.

Foreign investment at the A-League is at an all-time high, with five of the 12 clubs being either foreign-owned or controlled.

One club, Adelaide United, has its ownership completely hidden from the public. The Australian footballing community currently has no idea who finances the only professional club in South Australia.

A transparent fit and fairness test must be implemented for A-League ownership, one that keeps potential malicious actors away from the game, while protecting fans and clubs.

One way to achieve this would be to ask corporate regulators to take a more hands-on approach with A-League entities during the purchasing of a license.

The downside of this approach would be that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is capable of auditing companies’ finances, but foreign entities like Martin Lee’s businesses and Pelita Jaya Cronus can easily circumvent scrutiny.

Personal liability for owners and directors would force them to create sustainable businesses. While it might scare away some bad investors, those with good intentions will embrace the concept of a more stable A-League.

Another way to combat sportswashing would be to introduce the truly membership-based model championed by clubs in Germany.

The 50+1 model means that the majority of the club must be owned by local fans of the clubs, and if this was pursued in the A-League it would grant huge protections against owners who don’t act in the best intentions for the club long-term.

The Australian Professional Leagues need to ensure that those who want to invest in Australian football are doing so for the right reasons, instead of purely personal gain.

A true fit and fairness test, one that examines whether the owner is financially, ethically, and morally capable of owning an A-League team (or second division team) with the utmost accountability will be one of the best investment’s the APL can make for Australian football.

Without it, it will be a wild wasteland of Palmers, Tinklers, and Lees for years to come.

Western United names JPEX as new Gold Partner

Prijovic

Western United have announced an exciting partnership with Japanese crypto exchange company JPEX, who will join the Club as a Gold Partner ahead of the 2021/22 season.

JPEX will also sponsor United defender and reigning Player of the Season Tomoki Imai throughout the upcoming campaign.

Western United’s General Manager of Commercial, Chris Speldewinde, praised the new partnership which shows the club is agile in the modern marketplace.

“Cryptocurrency and different ways of trading currencies have become such huge things recently, and to have this partnership with JPEX is massive for the Club,” he said.

“It shows a really positive attitude from the Club, that we are dynamic, reacting to the real world and putting our best foot forward in a number of different sectors with our partnerships.

“JPEX is a company right at the forefront of this technology and we are really excited to work with them, and particularly as well to see them support Tomoki this season.”

JPEX began working in cryptocurrency as recently as July 2020 and have already grown to be one of the leading players in the field.

The company’s values are aligned with those of Western United and are a big reason as to why this partnership has taken place.

“The Foodbank charity event gave us an unforgotten impression as WUFC is assisting the community, just like we are doing to help people with money,” JPEX General Manager Vincent Le said.

“As a Japan based company, we grew up quickly in the past year in Asia, we are willing to enlarge our business and we are seeking more exposure in Australia. Hence, partnering with WUFC will be our steppingstone to let more and more Australian audiences know us.

“The Crypto market, especially under the COVID period, is becoming the mainstream of the world’s financial market. We hope we can make more Australian’s know more about what Crypto is.”

JPEX operates with a professional team that ensures the security of all of its clients’ buying and trading, with the slogan ‘fix the money, fix the world’.

Currently operating in the Asian-Pacific market, JPEX strives to expand globally and become one of the five largest exchanges in the world.

Joe Spiteri: “If you have players dribbling a lot in our curriculum, it seems they are being coached out of it”

Joe Spiteri is a name well known around Australian football circles and for good reason.

The former Australian international gritted his teeth for clubs in the National Soccer League, including being an influential part of a Melbourne Knights side in the mid 90’s – which is widely regarded as one of the best teams Australia has ever seen.

His exploits in the domestic competition eventually got him a move overseas, where he played for Sturm Graz in Austria, Lierse in Belgium and IFK Norrkoping in Sweden.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, the 48-year-old reflected on his playing career, explaining the differences at the time between plying his trade overseas and in Australia.

“The NSL level overall, don’t get me wrong, was pretty high,” he said.

“Back in the Melbourne Knights days we had one of the best teams at that time and is comparable to nowadays with the ability that was in that team. The number of national players who were playing for us were fantastic and they would be a hard team to beat (nowadays).

“But overseas the fitness level was completely above the Australian level at the time, it was considerably better.”

“I think the overseas setup took training to a whole new level; we were training all day every day.

“They had doctors, pediatrists, dietitians, everything over there and that was 25 years ago now.

“The science involved – we had heart rate monitors back then, our levels of training were monitored, our supplements program were monitored, our blood oxygen levels were monitored, we had to maintain a certain weight for our playing style and position, it was all next level and basically nothing was left to chance.

“Whereas in Australia at that time, there was nothing of that scientific level that there is now here.”

After coming back to Australia in the final years of his playing career, Spiteri would eventually begin his own academy, Soccer Pro Academy, to help further develop the next generation of footballers.

“I eventually moved to Werribee City when I was finishing up my playing career and there, they offered me the position of junior coaching director,” he said.

“From there, I eventually progressed into starting my own academy at the club and then after starting that, the level of interest increased and I further developed the idea.

“I started branching out to different areas, with different clubs and schools – before Covid we had over 450 kids across 8 venues in the west of Melbourne.

“Coaching kids is something that I’ve always done, even as a professional player I was sent out to schools and so forth. The enjoyment you get from seeing an under 5’s kid come to your academy bawling his out because he doesn’t know or want to play the game and then go on to play at a higher level and push up through the ranks is something very rewarding.”

Spiteri believes that at a junior development level, promising young players are being priced out of the game which is a significant issue.

“The NPL program and the restriction of being able to play at the highest level due to financial standings is concerning to myself,” he said.

“Back in the day you were either good or bad, the fees were pretty much standard across every club and every league.

“If you were good enough, you’d play in the higher leagues and get into the super league teams, if you weren’t you’d play at the lower clubs.

“Nowadays if you want to play at the highest level, there’s huge a gap in the fees you have to pay.

“Anytime you’re restricted on financial standings, you’re always missing out on some really good players.

“Back in the day, there wasn’t the academy system there is now, the professionalism, there’s a lot of different opportunities and competition.  Players don’t always have to join a club per say, they can join an academy and play in an academy team and they can still have the same, if not better, development as a footballer.”

Overall, the former NSL striker has some concerns around the national program and the way coaches are told to implement a certain style of play.

“In regards to the national curriculum and how coaches are asked to develop their players, I think we focus too much on maintaining possession and not enough on going around players, dribbling and creating goal scoring opportunities.

“I think we are falling behind in that factor and it’s highlighted in our national teams.

“Our national teams seem to maintain possession a lot, but not score or have the attacking flair that you see from European or South American nations.

“If you have players dribbling a lot in our curriculum, it seems they are being coached out of it, which I think is an issue.”

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