Criticising Four Corners for repeating old news about club owners is missing the point and we are fools if we ignore the issues that bubbled to the surface.
On Monday night, 431,000 people tuned into the ABC’s Four Corners episode on Melbourne City, Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United’s owners.
Any football fan will admit there were flaws in the episode. The programme was misleading in suggesting it was revealing the truth when in reality none of the information broadcast was a secret.
However, to suggest the episode didn’t teach us anything is arrogant and enables poor governance.
Suggesting that “we know this already” wouldn’t be applying enough scrutiny on club owners.
Four Corners established that in 2018 a consortium of Dutch businessmen sought to purchase Adelaide United from Greg Griffin and his co-owner. The buyers requested to remain anonymous during their purchase of the club. They are still anonymous to this day.
We were taught by the programme that a serious conversation about government ownership of clubs must be had, that transparency must be bolstered and that fans must push for community ownership models.
Even if the information is a decade old, people can change their views on football and society over time.
If an A-League fan watched on Monday night and questioned whether or not they wanted to pull support for their club, that is a perfectly reasonable response.
Adelaide United fans deserve to know the identities of their owner. It is worrying — as Greg Griffin pointed out during the programme — that they are “not obliged to” disclose who they are and that they are technically not breaking any rules by not revealing their identity.
Because of this, not even public ASIC searches can reveal who the owners actually are. This has repercussions that stretch far wider than just Adelaide United.
Because these anonymous owners are a part of the APL they could possibly be involved in the strategic direction of the professional leagues. It is in everybody’s interest to know who they are and why they wanted to purchase an A-League club.
The other group that has a major input into our future is the CFG.
Four Corners identified how the government of the UAE uses sport as a means to encourage positive attitudes in light of their human rights reputation, known as ‘sports-washing’.
It must be made clear that CFG in Australia, their staff and Melbourne City’s staff and players be viewed seperate to what Four Corners identified as ‘human rights abuse’ by the UAE Royal Family. They are not involved in those issues.
CFG have provided many positives to the A-League since they bought Melbourne Heart in 2014.
When the acquisition was completed seven years ago the football public didn’t take too much issue with it.
When Heart morphed into City, some fans might have been young adults or teenagers. Now they are more in tune with international events through social media, more in tune with Australian society and have a more experienced worldview.
We must acknowledge that people’s minds might have changed after seven years. If those minds have changed then it is crucial that we engage with them and understand them.
In my opinion, it is wrong that a foreign government owns a football club in Australia.
I believe it is wrong for any foreign government to indirectly own a football club in another country.
It is time for a debate to be had where football fans make their voices heard and determine whether or not we allow anymore purchases of our clubs by foreign governments.
We can’t change the past or wind back the clock on CFG’s Heart deal, but we can shape the future for the better.
There must be simple and effective changes to improve transparency and accountability.
As it stands if investors seek to purchase an A-League license as recently seen with the Newcastle Jets the FA does it’s due diligence on the bid before making a final decision. For foreign investors, depending on some circumstances, they may require approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
For any license acquisition a good practice for FA and A-League clubs would be for all identities of all stakeholders involved in a license purchase be disclosed to relevant parties before an acquisition can take place.
That would prevent the situation involving Griffin’s sale of Adelaide where the buyer was unknown.
A public register of owners should be introduced. This is already a yearly practice in the EFL Championship and is stated in their ‘EFL Regulations’ document saying:
“113.5.4 Each Club shall publish the identities of the ultimate owner (Person, not Entity) of each
Significant Interest in the Club (as that term is defined Rule 1.1 of Appendix 3). That information shall as a minimum be published on the Club’s official website on a page accessible directly from the home page of that official club website.”
The identities of the owners with significant interest in our A-League clubs should follow a similar rule and create a public register available for fans to see. Publish it on the official website and make it clear.
Football fans sink their hard earned into the A-Leagues with the expectation that clubs reinvest in and represent their community.
One day fans will have a seat at the table as owners, until then, for all their effort and investment today, they have no say at any influential level around how their clubs are run and they deserve better.
It’s time football fans were reminded of their true power.
One fan may achieve something, but thousands can change everything.
If fans want their clubs to represent them and their community, they should fight for it.
They should metaphorically kick, claw, scratch and scream for the things they believe in. Without their support and investment the club and league executives have no choice but to listen.
If fans want the APL to establish ownership models that include fans, or invest more in their local community, they must stand up and fight for it.
The A-League still has a long way to go and our long term future is not guaranteed now the league is independent.
Football fans must be willing to step into the ring.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece and represents the views and opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Kick360