Renegade owner launches new Aus football body

AP, Thursday 1 Mar 2012

Football Federation Australia (FFA) terminates Palmer's A-league team after his anti-FFA criticism; Palmer creates new body as watchdog and forum for ideas

Clive Palmer
Clive Palmer (Photo: AP)

Mining magnate Clive Palmer has stepped up his fight with Australian football authorities by creating a new organization with the stated aim of replacing the sport's current national governing body.

Football Federation Australia this week terminated the license for Palmer’s A-League team Gold Coast United after he had made comments heavily critical of the FFA, the national league and even the sport itself.

Palmer’s new organisation, Football Australia, is headed by former A-League chief Archie Fraser, and Palmer said Thursday it will act as a watchdog and forum for ideas in the sport.

“What does Football Australia plan to do? It plans to publish papers, hold press conferences, seek opinions, lobby the government, lobby the FFA for a better outcome for Australians and the game in Australia,” Palmer said.

Palmer had issued a statement minutes prior to the media conference which said: “Mr. Palmer said Football Australia aimed to replace Football Federation Australia (FFA), which he said was incompetent at both a domestic and international level.”

“The FFA has lurched from one disaster to another and needs to be replaced,” the statement quoted Palmer as saying. “They staged a hugely embarrassing World Cup bid which blew A$46 million of taxpayers’ money for one vote and they are running an A-League competition which is bleeding money from club owners.”

FFA chief Ben Buckley responded in a a statement describing Palmer’s assertions as “an array of unsubstantiated claims and wild commentary.”

“At this stage FFA does not intend to respond to this farcical outburst, which is clearly intended to deflect attention from the real issue—that Gold Coast United FC Pty Ltd under Clive Palmer has shown that it will not comply with the rules and regulations of the competition in accordance with the agreement they signed,” Buckley said.

FFA chairman Frank Lowy on Wednesday said the Australian governing body had been “left with no alternative” than to cancel Gold Coast’s license due to Palmer’s “flagrant disregard” for the A-League regulations.

“We can’t let anybody thumb their noses at us saying ‘We’re going to do what we want to do but I want to stay,”’ he said.

Palmer, a lawyer and regular litigant, had in recent weeks virtually dared the FFA to make a move against him by threatening legal action.

A loud and strident critic of the administration of the 10-team domestic league, Palmer responded predictably by challenging the league termination in court.

“This afternoon FFA was informed that Gold Coast United FC Pty Ltd would initiate legal proceedings tomorrow to challenge the notice of termination,” Buckley said Thursday. “We have expected this turn of events and we are fully prepared.”

Palmer was quoted in a Brisbane newspaper earlier this month as describing the team as insignificant, the competition as a joke and rating rugby league as a better game, drawing the ire of football fans across the country.

The billionaire businessman later said his comments on football were taken out of context, but didn’t back away from his criticism of the A-League and its administration. He added to that Wednesday by claiming that “the sport should not be run by dictators like (Lowy)” even as he called the FFA chairman an “institution” in Australian football.

At last weekend’s game, Gold Coast United refused to remove unsanctioned “Freedom of Speech” logos on its stadium and jerseys—placed over sponsor signage—despite warnings from the A-League that it contravened regulations. The club announced after the match that it would continue to use the logos.

Palmer caused a stir in 2009 when he capped the crowd attendance at matches to 5,000 fans to save stadium costs. He later withdrew the cap, but United has struggled to attract large crowds despite finishing third and fourth in the two seasons since joining the league in 2009.

Last week, Palmer fired Miron Bleiberg as coach—Bleiberg claimed he quit— following a dispute over awarding the captiancy to an untested teenager.

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