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Foreign investment in A-League welcome, but tread cautiously

How important are aesthetics to the new A-League clubs? (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
25th May, 2018
18

The only way to get an A-League licence is to have money, and lots of it with the help of a deep-pocketed private investor.

This someone must be willing to sacrifice money – because let’s be honest, rarely does anyone who owns a sports franchise in any sport, least of all the A-League, make a profit.

The number of foreign investors lining up to buy A-League licences is promising for fans in those particular regions vying for a spot in the big time.

While getting as much investment as we can is important – we need to tread wearily. Sport doesn’t make people money, so why would someone from China or India or Thailand want to invest in an A-League club of all things?

Quite simply, they have another agenda. They want to use an A-League club to build goodwill and engage with the community. Behind the scenes, they have other businesses in mind. Fair enough as long as it’s all above board.

The Chinese group trying to start Southern Expansion is a case in point. The JiYuan Group, a property group based in Hong Kong, have proposed to build a $300 million new stadium in Loftus in the blue-chip Sutherland Shire area.

No doubt they will engage in lots of other property development in the region. If they are doing everything legally, then all power to them in making as much money as they can.

This would normally be met with resistance in an environment where foreign investment in properties is causing a lot of angst among the average Australian who can’t afford a property of their own.

Then again, when they are funding a community program, an A-League club with all the trimmings (facilities, community hubs, cheap soccer programs, etc.) would garner a lot more support from these everyday Australians. A clever business strategy if you ask me.

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Another example of foreign investment is the proposed Sunshine Coast A-League building being financed by an Indian businessman, Nirav Tripathi, who is chairman of the Diya Group of Companies.

Tripathi has partnered with football legend George Weah to fund numerous football schools around the world to help young kids out of poverty using the global language of the sport.

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He plans to develop a stadium, academies and probably other properties on the Sunshine Coast too. After all, he did mention what a “beautiful environment” it is up there. Financing an A-League club is a good way to engage the locals and keep them happy.

Tripathi is regarded as a philanthropist. If he is as legitimate and ethical as his reputation suggests he is, then he will be a welcome addition to the Australian football family.

Let’s be honest though. He is out to make money from these academy and stadium ventures. Rarely do people invest millions for no return, no matter how much of a humanitarian they may be.

But if they help young people along the way then good luck to him. There are far less honourable ways to make money.

Another key thing is making sure all foreign investors are doing their job above board rather than trying to hide shady dealings behind a community project like an A-League club.

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It’s all good to do the right thing with one hand but it’s completely unacceptable to then do something sinister with the other.

Some Chinese, Indian, and even Australian businesses have a history of engaging in unethical business conduct that compromises all kinds of basic humanitarian rules. No one is suggesting the JiYuan Group or Diya would engage in such conduct though.

Here’s hoping that the FFA would do their due diligence before allowing foreign investors – no matter how much money they throw at us.

The smaller market teams are at the highest risk of corruption from rich businessmen. Geelong, Fremantle, Tasmania and Canberra are going to find it hard to be commercially viable.

They need private investors more than anyone else. The local football communities in these areas must be alert when allowing foreign investors with ulterior motives.

We must not let them ‘pay us off’ by providing an A-League team which is a smokescreen for something else. Heaven knows football in this country doesn’t need any more shady politics.

It’s an exciting time for Australian football. With up to 15 bids lined up, many are keen to get their foot in the door.

It’s staggering so many people want a team considering how much money is being lost by the game. Clearly, there is something else at play besides football. Embrace it, but be wary.

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Can’t wait for October to see who will join the show!