It all sounded so promising.

The inaugural Chairman of Brisbane Roar under the Bakrie Group’s ownership, Dali Tahir, told SBS-TV on day one in 2012 what he’d like to see in ten years time.

“For Brisbane Roar to have its own stadium,” he said. “That would be fantastic.”

So far so good.

But the alarm bells really should have started ringing when Tahir also brushed aside the gently-asked question about the Bakrie Group’s “chequered past”.

Tahir said there are always things that get in the way of one hundred per cent success, that the Bakrie’s had ‘solutions on sensitive issues’ and he was confident that none of these issues would be a drag on football investment.

This should have been enough for the celebratory champagne at FFA HQ to lose its effervescence.

How does FFA ‘do’ due diligence?

If the football community ever doubted the need for appropriate due diligence when it comes to A-League owners, the Bakrie Group’s purchase of Brisbane Roar is a rich case study. Clearly, there was little to none applied by former CEO Ben Buckley and his closest advisors in this instance.

Buckley told Shaun Mooney, co-author of The A-League with John Stensholt, that he was flicking through the newspaper when he serendipitously noticed an article about the Bakrie Group, searching for mining assets in Australia, who were also interested in football. Buckley contacted his “friend”, Dali Tahir.  

Tahir was a vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and part of the FIFA ethics committee that even FIFA eventually realised wasn’t terribly effective. He was also “semi-employed” by the Bakrie’s.

This was in the period after Brisbane Roar had won their second consecutive championship in April 2012. Buckley was desperate to get Brisbane Roar off FFA’s balance sheet before the end of the financial year as they were heading for a multi-million-dollar loss. (The subsequent sale for a reported $7 million resulted in a $1.5 million surplus for FFA in 2012).

Not heard of the Bakrie’s? Really?

In Indonesia, the Bakrie family is as synonymous with PSSI as the Lowy family is in Australia with FFA.

The middle brother, Nirwan Bakrie, was vice-president of the PSSI at the time that Nurdin Halid was president. Halid was very well known to Buckley, Frank Lowy and Moya Dodd.

The PSSI and FFA presidents co-signed a ‘cooperation agreement’ in January 2010, soon after a visit to FFA HQ by Halid. Not long afterwards the PSSI withdrew their Bakrie-funded bid for the 2022 World Cup race. At the World Cup later that year, Halid gave Australia Indonesia’s enthusiastic support for the 2022 Bid – not that it mattered, because he didn’t have a vote.

Nirwan Bakrie was a member of AFC committees, along with Buckley, Dodd and other senior staff at FFA. They might not have ever met personally, but hadn’t they noticed his name on meeting papers? Or looked at membership of AFC committees that are published on the AFC website? He was there.

The Bakrie’s involvement in Indonesian football went further.

Nirwan’s son was assistant manager of the U-23 Indonesian national team. The General Secretary of the PSSI was an associate of Nirwan’s in the Pelita Jaya Sports Association, as well as being an official of the Golkar Party, of which older Bakrie brother, Aburizal, was Chairman, as well as being the 2014 Presidential candidate for Golkar. The national team manager was an executive of the Bakrie company implicated in the mudflow tragedy in East Java. The technical deputy for the national team was an executive of another Bakrie company, PT Bumi resources.

What FFA should have known

Nirwan and Halid were stood down from their positions in the PSSI in 2011 following a power struggle within Indonesian football. They were found to have broken a number of the PSSI’s code of ethics.

At the time, the PSSI’s Indonesian Super League was a mess.

There were complaints made to FIFA by other PSSI officials that the competition was disorganised. At least three clubs were bankrupt or on their way to it. There was regular crowd unrest at matches. The broadcasting rights had been granted without tender to VIVA-TV which is run by Aburizal Bakrie’s son (and in which Rupert Murdoch’s Fast Plus Limited has a 7.5% stake).

There was also disregard of contractual obligations towards players. Sound familiar? 

There were 112 cases of unpaid local players, seven cases of unpaid players in the national team and 38 cases of unpaid international players with the FIFA Dispute Resolution committee. 

What did Nirwan do when he and Halid were stood down?

Nirwan Bakrie established a rival football association known as the KPSI that had a major disruptive influence on football in Indonesia for the next four years.

As part of a campaign to clean-up Indonesian sport by the Widodo administration that was elected in 2014, Indonesian government authorities tried to ban the PSSI on the basis that two of the Indonesian Super League clubs did not meet government financial regulations.

Under pressure from FIFA, the two factions eventually reunited in an uneasy truce. FIFA didn’t want to see two rival domestic competitions. However, the relationship between those who had assumed control following Bakrie’s and Halid’s departures, and the Bakrie-backed forces from the KPSI, was never going to last.

Extraordinarily – when you consider that other priorities might have been front-of-mind – three days after the arrests in Zurich that rocked world football in May last year, the FIFA Executive banned the PSSI because of ‘government interference’.

The people who had moved against Halid and Bakrie in PSSI in 2011 soon lost their positions at the PSSI.

Who was in charge at PSSI next?

The former Chairman of Nirwan Bakrie’s breakaway KPSI, La Nyalla Mattalitti, was elected President of the PSSI. Mattalitti and others in executive positions at the PSSI are all closely associated with the Golkar Party.

That’s evidently made FIFA happy, because they lifted the ban on the PSSI in May this year soon after a visit to Zurich by an Indonesian delegation.

The delegation comprised Erick Thohir, Chairman of the board of Commissioners of the Bakrie-owned VIVA-TV (as well as a co-owner of DC United and Chairman of Inter Milan and the Indonesian Olympic Committee), and Agam Gumelar, former Chairman of the PSSI and former Indonesian government Minister from the Golkar Party. Gumelar now chairs the PSSI’s ad-hoc reform committee.

What are FFA to do? How can they climb out of this hole?

While the Brisbane Roar playing group and A-League fans look on from the sidelines in frustration, David Gallop must now deal with a delicate balancing act.  

FFA can’t afford to be taking charge of Brisbane Roar again – notwithstanding the $5 million bonus they’ll receive from FIFA this year. They also cannot afford not to have a well-supported Brisbane Roar when they’re six weeks out from the new season and about to head into negotiations on a new television deal. The three cities that count when it comes to the domestic TV deal are Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

While Gallop wasn’t at FFA at the time, he cannot also point the finger of blame entirely at the Bakrie Group. FFA has had dealings with the PSSI and Halid for at least seven years, three years of which pre-dated the Brisbane Roar purchase. They may try, but they can’t claim naivety yet again, as they have – somewhat amusingly –  with previous international forays. In addition, two of FFA’s key senior advisors at the time of the 2012 sale are still there.

So what’s in store for Brisbane Roar supporters and players?

The bottom-line is: there will be a Brisbane Roar. That’s for certain. But don’t expect Dali Tahir’s promised stadium any time soon. There is likely to be continuing turbulence.

In the meantime, we should spare a thought for Gallop and perhaps send him a care package of headache prophylactics. He’s going to need them for a while. 

Categories: Opinion | A-League | Asia

bakries, brisbane roar, david gallop, ffa

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