Questions mount over Football Australia’s United Front deal

Questions continue to mount over Football Australia’s United Front deal, just hours before the Socceroos take to the pitch in Beijing for a match we now know was planned to coincide with President Xi’s 70th Birthday.

Confirmation that Australian journalists have been blocked from attending the match further increases the risk that the Socceroos, through no fault of their own, will be used for propaganda purposes.

The combination of this match being funded by a United Front Work Department organisation, marketed to Australians as a diplomatic opportunity, and held on President Xi’s birthday, while Australian journalists are locked out should have raised serious questions for the Government. Yet both DFAT and Football Australia have washed their hands of any responsibility for identifying the risks.

Government and businesses are constantly warned by security and intelligence agencies about the risks of foreign interference, yet somehow the Australian Government never thought to check who was organising this event and why it was being marketed by third parties as a Government-endorsed diplomatic event.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance recently expressed strong concerns about propaganda risks and lack of scrutiny when Australian journalists were not permitted to attend the Victorian Premier’s visit to China in March. The same concerns apply on an even larger scale with this match.

What we know about Football Australia’s China Rainbow deal:

  • Football Australia entered a deal with United Front Work Department-owned China Rainbow, involving a cash payment to Football Australia.
  • China Rainbow removed web links showing it was controlled by a United Front organisation shortly after they were announced as the event promoter.
  • Both Football Australia and the Australian Government claimed to be unaware of China Rainbow’s United Front links, despite the Australian Government being involved in setting up the deal.
  • DFAT responded to questions in Senate Estimates by saying any concerns about the game were “a matter for other agencies”, without revealing that the match had been timed to coincide with President Xi’s birthday and the Australian Ambassador is expected to attend.
  • Football Australia dismissed concerns from human rights groups about playing the match in Beijing.
  • Australian journalists have been blocked from attending the game.