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25 Oct 2021 19:59
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  •   Home > News > Sports > Soccer

    Foreign ownership investigation of A-League soccer teams reveals human rights concerns, match-fixing links

    Links to an Indonesian executive jailed over a match-fixing scandal — and accusations of "sportswashing" by a wealthy Arab state — have been uncovered in an investigation into foreign ownership in the A-League.

    An investigation into foreign ownership of Australian soccer clubs has uncovered links to an Indonesian executive jailed over a major match-fixing scandal and accusations of "sportswashing" by one of the wealthiest Arab states.

    In Australia's premier soccer competition, the A-League, five of the 12 clubs are foreign-owned or controlled.

    However, with few requirements for public transparency, the financing behind the clubs is often obscured.

    Brisbane Roar is fully owned by one of Indonesia's largest corporations, the Bakrie Group, which has extensive mining and media interests.

    The Bakrie family has strong ties to Indonesian politics. Its patriarch, Aburizal Bakrie, is a former chairman of the notorious Golkar party, the political party of the corrupt former Indonesian president, Suharto.

    Aburizal Bakrie's younger brother, Nirwan, is a powerful figure in Indonesian football.

    Documents filed with the Australian corporate regulator show the Bakries own Brisbane Roar through an Indonesian holding company, Pelita Jaya Cronus.

    Four Corners has discovered that a director of the company, Joko Driyono, was jailed for 18 months in 2019 for interfering with evidence in a police investigation into match-fixing in Indonesian soccer.

    Court records reveal that Mr Driyono – a former acting chairman of the Indonesian soccer association – was convicted of instructing an associate, his driver, to remove a notebook computer and documents from his office, which had been cordoned off with police tape during the investigation.

    Mr Driyono has since been released from prison.

    According to Indonesian corporate records, he remains "president director" of Pelita Jaya Cronus, Brisbane Roar's ultimate holding company. In Indonesia, the president director heads the board of directors.

    Mr Driyono and Brisbane Roar did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    Brisbane Roar fan Chris McAlister told Four Corners people expect high standards from club owners.

    "You have the livelihood of so many prominent people and well-respected people and heroes and idols for young kids, on your payroll … you should be held to those same levels of moral and ethical, environmental, social standards that we're holding other companies to," Ms McAlister said.

    'Unheard of in most European leagues'

    Former Football Federation of Australia corporate affairs director Bonita Mersiades said soccer authorities in Australia "should certainly be aware of" Driyono's conviction and involvement in the company and "should be concerned about it".

    Ms Mersiades — who blew the whistle on alleged corruption in the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup — said there needed to be more transparency about the finances and ownership structures of A-League teams.

    Most A-League teams are run as private companies in Australia and are, therefore, not required to publish annual financial reports.

    "We don't have the same level of insight into the ownership of the clubs that they do in other countries," Ms Mersiades told Four Corners.

    "It's a basic tenet of good governance that we have some?transparency?and accountability around ownership, both foreign-owned and Australian-owned."

    When A-League club Adelaide United was sold in 2018 by local businessmen — including Adelaide lawyer Greg Griffin — the consortium of Dutch investors who bought it insisted on remaining anonymous.

    Mr Griffin only ever met the consortium's front person and the investors' identities still haven't been disclosed.

    "I think it's probably unheard of in most European leagues, where ownerships are very transparent," Mr Griffin said.

    "I think any entity wanting to come into the A-League should disclose precisely who they are and what they are."

    'Sportswashing' a reputation

    Melbourne City won its first A-League grand final this year — a milestone, not only for the team but also for the club's wealthy foreign owner.

    The team is owned by City Football Group, the sports investment company of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the royal family that rules Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

    City Football Group owns, or has a stake in, 10 soccer teams in as many countries. Its flagship team is the UK powerhouse Manchester City.

    After Melbourne City's grand final victory, the first person the team's captain Scott Jamieson thanked was "His Highness Sheikh Mansour".

    He also singled out two other club figures, chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak and vice-chairman Simon Pearce.

    Apart from their involvement in City Football Group and its teams, Mr Al Mubarak and Mr Pearce are senior advisers to the Abu Dhabi government.

    Mr Al Mubarak is 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 UAE's armed forces.?

    Mr Pearce, who lives in Sydney, is a PR specialist who advises Mr Al Mubarak in his role as chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority, a government agency providing advice to the Crown Prince.

    "He has been instrumental in government policy there for a long time, principally communications, though, that's his key role. I think probably the simplest way to think of him is [as] the minister of propaganda for the United Arab Emirates," said Nicholas McGeehan, who spent five years as a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

    The UAE has long been criticised by Amnesty International for its human rights record, according to its Australian chief executive, Sam Klintworth.

    "Some of those [concerns] include the silencing and imprisonment of those speaking out in opposition to the ruling family. Certainly, the rights of women are a concern for us, the rights of same-sex couples, and there are disturbing human rights violations within the kafala, which is the system of sponsorship for migrant workers," Ms Klintworth told Four Corners.

    She said Amnesty International was opposed to City Football Group's ownership of Melbourne City, due to the UAE's poor human rights record.?

    Amnesty accuses the UAE of using football teams such as Manchester City and Melbourne City to "sportswash" its international reputation.

    "People associate sport with positivity, with achievement, with prowess and athleticism," Ms Klintworth said.

    "Sportswashing essentially is taking that positive attribute that's associated with sport and using it to improve your reputation.

    "So, essentially, that can be leveraging off the glamour, the access, the universal appeal of sport, to improve your brand, and it can also be seen to disguise or divert away from human rights violations."

    Melbourne City is one of several City Football Group teams, including Manchester City, that are being engaged by the United Arab Emirates to promote next month's World Expo in Dubai.

    Mr McGeehan said City Football Group's ownership of the teams raised ethical and moral issues for the clubs, and for their supporters.

    "Do you really want to be run by a government that's committing war crimes and part of its purpose of owning the club is to deflect attention from those war crimes and other human rights abuses? I would argue, no," he said.

    "Clubs should be run in the interest of their supporters, and their communities. Not in the political interest of foreign governments."

    Melbourne City declined to comment.

    A spokesman for Football Australia said it worked closely with law enforcement agencies to "protect and preserve financial integrity" in the game, and that it applied a "fit and proper test" to clubs, which must provide "independently audited financial accounts" each year.

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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