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The winds of change swirling around the FFA Congress and a potentially self governing A-League have kicked up some dust about the relationship between investment, especially foreign investment, and football's broader interests.

Its all about shaping the game for 21st century growth, but it is also the continuation of a discussion which dates back to the 19th century.

When Steven Lowy announced his impending departure from the FFA, he voiced concern about a power shift to A-League clubs. Although he took the view that foreign investment was welcome and crucial, he worried that with seven of the ten clubs at least part owned by foreign capital, their interests may be at odds with Australia's aims outside the realm of the top clubs.

Sydney Morning Herald journalist Malcolm Knox picked up the point saying Lowy had represented local interests "against those of the UAE and Chinese governments and other private owners."

Neither has made much of a case to explain why the motives of foreign investors are different to those of domestic investors, or why they should be regarded with special caution.

Australia's dependence on foreign money for it's big ticket ambitions is as long as the game's representative life. When the proud 1880s pioneers finished the first Victoria versus NSW intercolonial series, they petitioned the F.A. in London about a tour by or to Australia.

This would be paid for, in whole or in part, by London. The first big time instinct was to seek foreign investment. 

When Australia's international era began in earnest in the 1920s, Asian investment became prominent. The failing 1927 Chinese tour of Australia was helped out with a modest Australian top-up when arrangements began falling apart, but the whole venture was brought about by finance raised in Shanghai by the Darwin born, Harvard educated, Professor Kwang Lim Kwong.

A year later, Australia undertook a first ever Asian tour, a sprawling program of matches in Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, today's Indonesia. The tour was paid for by ethnic Armenian businessmen led by C.W. Weskin. More investment from Java underwrote a second East Indies tour in 1931.

Even New Caledonia coughed up the cash for Australia's Pacific trip of 1933.

The last tour before the post-war Australian football transformations led by mass migration was the Chinese tour of 1941, made possible by the deep pockets of Aw Boon Haw, the Burma born entrepreneur behind the Tiger Balm company and the Sing Tao newspaper group with titles in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

The national team is the most obvious expression of Australia's broader interests, and in it's early days it did pretty well out of foreign investment. Asian investment, like most of Australia's multi-tour, 70 plus pre-War match playing experience, has been edited out of the Australian football story.

Australia's biggest foreign investment failing in this period was not investigating whether it could plug in to the funds FIFA was offering to Asian territories to take part in the World Cups of the 1930s.

Closer engagement with Asia, on and off the field, should be a high priority for both the revamped FFA and a reinvigorated A-League. Australia's interests are intimately bound to the success of Asian competitions.

Asian football is moving on, and world football increasingly depends on Asian investment. For sure, a national body must balance the game's development as best it can, including the relationship between the A-League and other stakeholders. 

Let's examine the local and international forces at work in football by all means, but let's also be aware that discouraging investment from Asia is the wrong way to go.


Trevor Thompson's latest book 'Playing for Australia - The First Socceroos, Asia and World Football', published by Fair Play Publishing, will be released next month. 


Categories: Opinion | Asia | Football Business

foreign investment, asian football, ffa congress

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