Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lowy18 - Yes We Can!

Frank Lowy, like most people in influential positions, splits opinions. You may admire his business acumen, his passion for football and his tendency to throw sacks of his own money into the game. Or you may be wary of his slightly less-than-spotless business history, which includes the odd allegation of corruption, and the conflict of interest that came in his dual role as FFA Chairman and owner of Sydney FC. Or, you could be a raving anti-Semite that thinks that Lowy, like all Jews with money, is behind September 11, the credit crunch, climate change, and teenage pregnancy.

One thing that can't be denied is Lowy's huge influence on the resurgence of Australian football post-Crawford Report. It's hard to imagine that the A-League would have had such an impact were it not for Lowy's vision, investment and guiding hand. Likewise, his presence as a key FFA figure lends enormous weight to Australia's dealings with the wider football world. He's not the richest man in Australia for nothing: he knows how to schmooze and how to cut a good deal.

News came through this week that Frank Lowy has sold his majority stake in Sydney FC to Russian billionaire David Traktovenko, ex-owner of Zenit St. Petersburg, and healthcare magnate Paul Ramsay. Lowy claims that this is an ideal scenario - under Sydney's new ownership they will remain financially secure, Traktovenko and Ramsay will be able to inject new life into the club, and Uncle Frank will be able to devote his time and considerable influence to his other roles within Australian football. Goodbye conflict of interest, hello shady Russian billionaire sugar daddy (now that's not entirely fair: I'm just assuming he's shady by virtue of being a Russian billionaire).

Lowy's a wily old fox, though. What, we were supposed to just think he would slip away from Sydney and just quietly go about his business with the FFA? Of course not. There was something big in the pipeline.

And today, that big thing in the pipeline exposed itself: the Federal Government announced a $46 million commitment to Australia's bid for the 2018 World Cup. Yep, now we're cooking with gas. It's definitely an uphill struggle - we'll be smack in the middle of a new-Cold War wrangle between superpowers like the US, Russia, China and England - but, whatever, Johnny Warren told us so, and who am I to argue with the great man's ghost.

What this pledge means is that the Government really does recognise the importance of football as a political tool and a means through which Australia can project its image to the world. The World Cup is huge, and hosting it would be the biggest thing that has happened in Australia since Donald Bradman came home from Gallipoli and built the Opera House.

Let's hope that this news spurs the SA Government into getting its head out of the sand: $100 million for a few corporate boxes is not going to turn Footy Park into a World Cup-worthy venue. Screw the SANFL (they've been screwing everyone else for years) - Adelaide needs an up-to-date stadium with a rectangular configuration, close to the city, that's worthy of big football matches.

AUFC Chairman Dario Fontanarosa has been talking about the need for a new stadium for a while now. There are rumours that, indeed, the majority of the corporate backing needed for Estadio Dario has been secured. In an ideal world, Adelaide United would be able to build its own 25-30,000 capacity stadium under its own steam, with the Federal & State Governments kicking in the funds to increase it to necessary size for World Cup group matches, should Australia's bid be successful. I'm not holding my breath, but stranger things have happened.

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