As the fallout from the A-Leagues’ decision to sell their grand final hosting rights to Sydney continues, more clubs and players have taken to social media to clarify their positions, with one club shareholder and former director criticising the actions of a key decision-maker.
- A-League clubs continue to revolt over the decision to relocate the competition’s grand finals to Sydney for the next three years
- The Australian Professional Leagues, a board which administers the competition, refused to back down from the controversial call
- Fans, players, coaches and clubs continue to take to social media to express their disagreement with the situation
At 10:20pm AEDT on Tuesday, following an emergency meeting between club owners, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) — which own and operate the A-League Men and A-League Women — released a statement doubling-down on their decision to partner with Destination NSW to host their showpiece events in Sydney for the next three years for a reported eight-figure sum.
“The Australian Professional League Club Chairs met today to reaffirm their support for the partnership with Destination New South Wales,” the statement said.
“As a result of the consensus achieved in this meeting, APL is committed to this new and significant partnership and the resulting generation of important new funds for football — all of which will be invested into the growth of the game.
“We believe in the potential for Australian football to close the gap on professional football in other parts of the world. We thank DNSW for sharing in that belief and our strategy to continue to grow the Australian professional game.
“Our immediate focus will be to work with partners to ensure accessible travel and accommodation for all travelling fans and to build a festival of finals football worthy of our game.”
When it was originally posted on social media, the statement was accompanied by the names of 11 club chairs — with the exception of Anthony Di Pietro, who resigned from his position on the APL board earlier in the day, and a representative from Canberra United — implying all had agreed to the information it contained.
However, the statement was soon taken down after some club figureheads — including Western United Football director Steve Horvat and Perth Glory chairman Tony Sage — revealed they never agreed to have their names included on the release, or were not part of the meeting from which the statement came at all. The APL then replaced the statement with one that had the names removed.
The public contradictions and comments formed part of a larger war of words that consumed Australian football on Wednesday, with other clubs including Adelaide United releasing public statements distancing themselves from the original decision while also revealing they were not part of the process that led to it.
“Adelaide United was not part of the decision to host each A-Leagues Grand Final in New South Wales, as it is one of the Australian professional clubs without a seat on the APL Board,” Adelaide’s statement said.
“As a proud club dedicated to the people of South Australia, we believe the decision has not been made in the best interests of our fans.
“We have waited until now to make an announcement to be fully appraised of the facts that have led to this outcome.
“While a democratically made decision cannot be overturned, the process has highlighted the need to review the decision-making processes of the APL.”
It remains unclear which club chairs were aware of the deal with Destination NSW and when, as well as which clubs did or did not have a say in whether the grand finals were to be moved.
Canberra United — the only all-women’s club in the A-Leagues — has been noticeably absent from all published lists of APL and owner chair meetings this week.
While the A-Leagues are jointly owned by all clubs, the APL’s board currently consists of just four club chairs: those of Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Brisbane Roar, and Melbourne City (Melbourne Victory were the fifth before Di Pietro’s resignation on Tuesday), in addition to a representative from Football Australia and Silver Lake, the private equity firm which invested a reported $140 million into the league last year.
On Wednesday afternoon, Melbourne City released a statement that struck a different tone to those from Adelaide, Western United, and Wellington Phoenix over the past 48 hours.
“We understand the frustration with the decision to host the A-League Men and A-League Women Grand Finals in Sydney for the next three seasons,” it read.
“It has been an incredibly tough few years for the clubs. The reality is, in order to create a fully sustainable competition, the decision made by the APL is necessary and has been agreed by the majority of club owners. There is an economic reality that our sport has to face post-COVID.
“We know that many of our fans are disappointed with the process, but we will sit down with City members and fan groups in the coming days and weeks to directly address your concerns, and to explain how the club will support our fans should we make the ALM or ALW Grand Final.”
Tensions has grown within clubs too, with one Melbourne Victory shareholder criticising the actions of club chairman Di Pietro, who resigned from the APL board and subsequently released a statement in which he “urged the APL to pause this plan and consider an alternative that supports the growth and stability of the League while also allowing both the men’s and Women’s A-League Grand Finals to continue to be played in the city of the highest ranked qualifier”.
Former Victory director Richard Wilson, who departed the board in 2021 but still holds a 13 per cent share in the club, contacted the ABC today to release a statement criticising Di Pietro’s actions, in which he reportedly voted in favour of the original decision before fan backlash saw him do an about-face at an emergency meeting on Tuesday night.
“[Di Pietro] has run for cover behind the fans after voting in favour of the three-year money grab,” Wilson said.
“He’s wordsmithed a statement seeking to diminish his culpability and tendered his resignation from the board after seeing the backlash.
“The deal is done and now he’s out of the APL tent. Is that real leadership? I don’t think so.”
Wilson resigned from the Victory board amid a series of disagreements over the club’s direction, with Victory releasing a statement at the time saying: “The board along with a number of shareholders welcome his exit, which has been the subject of discussion for some time. The club now has an opportunity to move forward in a unified way.”
Melbourne Victory was contacted over Wilson’s remarks but referred the ABC to its previous comments.
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