As the Fairfax investigative unit continues its heavy campaign against Football Federation Australia’s World Cup bid, you have to feel a bit sorry for former Fairfax veteran Rod Allen who has crossed to the PR dark side and is battling hard to limit the damage.
Allen is a former chief of staff of The Sun Herald who only joined the FFA late last year, and in January succeeded the feisty Bonita Mersiades who departed as the FFA’s head of communications in rather acrimonious circumstances.
Mersiades was a contributor to News Ltd’s The Punch site before her departure and she certainly was talking up all the economic benefits for Australia. It would be interesting to know what she now thinks about all these documents that have fallen into the hands of Fairfax’s crack duo of Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker.
The continuing stream of Fairfax stories is certainly doing plenty of damage to the credibility of Australia’s bid, which probably explains why the FFA has lobbed a classic defamation stopper writ in the NSW Supreme Court. Margaret Simons reported on Wednesday that FFA chairman Frank Lowy has been ringing Fairfax directors to complain about the coverage.
This wouldn’t surprise given Lowy’s command and control approach to management, although the FFA denies it and point out Lowy has been busy in South Africa and Europe during Fairfax’s jihad.
There was a time when Lowy was perceived to have some influence over Fairfax courtesy of three cross-directorships between Westfield and the media company, namely former Fairfax chairman Dean Wills, former Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer and David Gonski. However, even that didn’t stop Ian Verrender’s extremely damaging front page reports for the Sydney Morning Herald back in 1998 about Westfield funding bogus community groups.
John Howard’s welcome reforms to defamation law ended the right of companies to sue for defamation, but this doesn’t cover the FFA because it is a not-for-profit incorporated association.
The FFA is most enraged about Fairfax’s suggestion it was somehow running a Melbourne Storm-style system with two sets of books that has hidden the spending of up to $10 million in government money.
As the documents and statements continue to flow from the government, the FFA and various auditors, it is looking like this inference will be very difficult to stack up. A strategic withdrawal and apology on this point would be a sensible move for Fairfax, thereby allowing it to continue to deploy this treasure trove of internal documents which have come its way.
That said, the Fairfax editors do need to think about the national interest. Taxpayers have committed $46 million to winning the 2022 World Cup and victory is still considered a reasonable prospect.
Is it really worth running a long and protracted campaign? Okay, the contracts with some of these colourful European lobbyists look generous but the facts are now on the table and the majority of the payments are success fees.
Every last dollar of taxpayer money has been accounted for to the government and Fairfax runs the risk of being captured by a disgruntled former staffer and Andrew Jennings, who has been running a long jihad against Peter Hargitay.
The harsh reality of the situation is that you don’t win global sporting events such as the World Cup without playing the game. For mine, the ‘scandal’ of the FFA bid is nothing like as bad as what McKenzie and Baker turned up with the Reserve Bank’s subsidiary Securency and it is time to wind things back and allow Australia a chance to put its best foot forward ahead of the December 3 decision for 2022.