Friday, January 28, 2011
A Family Affair
The Bakries, Indonesia’s most influential family, recently chalked up another headline following allegations of having turned the national soccer team into a political commodity.
Aside from having tentacles in the political sphere and business associations, the family has a long standing record as financier of several major sports organizations, particularly ones that organize events for sports that have the potential to attract huge crowds.
Aburizal Bakrie, the family’s patron and chairman of the powerful Golkar Party, is an aficionado of badminton, tennis and cycling, while his younger brother Nirwan Dermawan is a soccer fanatic and a benefactor of volleyball and swimming associations.
The family’s youngest, Indra Usmansyah, is an active backer of basketball and horse riding organizations and clubs.
Despite engaging in sports development since the early 1980s, it was not until 1986 that the family began to seriously invest in sports by setting up the Pelita Jaya Sports Association, overseeing sports loved by the brothers.
Among the association’s flagships is the Kerawang-based Pelita Jaya soccer club, which gained fame
after importing retired World Cup soccer stars, including Roger Milla and Maboang Kessack of Cameroon, and Mario Kempes of Argentina.
Aside from building the Lebak Bulus soccer stadium in South Jakarta, the Bakries also built a 15-hectare sports training complex in Sawangan, Bogor, West Java, in 1987 to support the development of its athletes.
“Back then, Lt. Col. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [now president] regularly used the Sawangan facilities to train his Army volleyball team,” said Bakrie family spokesman Lalu Mara Satriawangsa.
“But now his [Yudhoyono] supporters often criticize the family for turning sports into a political commodity. Look, we were involved in sports long before anyone became interested in spending money to help develop our athletes.”
Since 1986, the family is estimated to have donated at least Rp 1 trillion (US$110 million) to sports organizations, clubs and events, according to Lalu Mara.
The family, Indonesia’s 10th richest with a net worth of US$2.1 billion, according to Forbes Magazine, was the first to donate heavily to sports, in which during the 1980s and 1990s was also largely financed by proceeds from a government-sponsored lottery.
The Bakries played a role in Indonesia’s first Olympic gold medal for badminton in 1992 in Barcelona when Aburizal was deputy chairman and backer of the badminton association. Badminton is Indonesia’s second most favorite sport after soccer.
Despite their long record in the sports world, the Bakries have recently been under spotlight for what people consider as riding on the coattails of the national soccer team’s success to boost both the family’s and the Golkar Party’s image.
The debacle started when the family hosted the national team at Aburizal’s private residence in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Dec. 20 after it defeated the Philippines for a ticket in the finals.
The visit, covered widely by the media, was made at the height of the soccer fever following the team’s astonishing performance during the 2010 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup, although it eventually becoming the runner up after being beaten by Malaysia.
Before the squad, Aburizal pledged Rp 3 billion to be paid out as bonuses to the players, and donated 30 hectares of land in Sawangan for the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) to be used as a training center.
“Giving instant rewards to national team players gives political leaders higher value for their rupiah,” said capital market analyst Lin Che Wei of the Independent Research & Advisory Indonesia.
Lin said using soccer as a platform for promotion was cheaper than spending money on sufficient training infrastructure and youth development in the game.
“These politicians try to take the easy route instead of really improving soccer infrastructure. My heart sinks when I see players being treated like commodities by politicians,” he said.
After the trip to the Bakries, PSSI chairman Nurdin Halid, who is also a Golkar politician, thanked the family for its extensive generosity in helping finance PSSI-initiated activities and the national team.
He also claimed that 80 percent of PSSI and the national team’s annual budget of around Rp 100 billion comprised Bakrie donations.
“The family is where PSSI can always turn to for every penny. It has been going on for ages so I don’t see why people are making a fuss about the family’s financial assistance to the organization,” said Lalu Mara.
Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Andi Mallaranggeng welcomed the family’s financial contribution to national sports, but voiced hope that it was done in all sincerity.
“We always support anyone who donates money for sports development. However, we hope nothing is expected in return for their contribution,” said Andi, who is a Democratic Party politician.
Andi, a harsh critic of the way Indonesian soccer is managed, also urged politicians to refrain from meddling in sports so that athletes could be managed professionally.
“I don’t buy the claim that 80 percent of PSSI’s annual budget comes in the form of donations from the Bakries,” said Andi.
“The government always gives 20 percent of the needed budget while the remaining 80 percent comes from proceeds from tickets, sponsorships and donations from various parties.”
Despite the critics, Yudhoyono and his Democratic Party have also been accused of not being sincere in efforts to improve soccer management.
Analysts believe political rifts between the Democrats and Golkar have now spilled over into soccer, with the stake being a chance to win over soccer fans — a huge public relations audience targeted to promote any political agenda ahead of the 2014 elections.
However, the Bakries and Golkar are unlikely to give up any of their stake during the upcoming PSSI congress in April, which will see a shake up in the association’s management, particularly when the family has had a strong presence in the organization for decades.
Compared to other sports, soccer is probably the crown jewel of the Bakries, besides its coal business. The PSSI has been traditionally managed by both Golkar politicians and family associates and company executives.
Nirwan, a prime mover in Indonesian soccer, has been active in PSSI since 1986, and is now PSSI deputy chairman. Many call him the “real PSSI chairman”.
PSSI secretary-general Nugraha Besoes, who has held the position largely since 1983, is also a Golkar politician and former executive of the Pelita Jaya Sports Association as well as Nirwan’s associate in managing the volleyball association.
National soccer team manager Andi Darussalam Tabusalla is an executive at PT Minarak Lapindo Jaya, the Bakrie company handling the Lapindo mudflow disaster.
The PSSI’s technical deputy for National Team Agency, Imam Arief, is an executive of PT Bumi Resources, a coal company associated with the Bakries. Imam is the key figure behind the hiring of Austrian Alfred Riedl as the national soccer team coach.
The family’s love of soccer also extended to foreign land when it purchased a 20 percent share in Leicester City FC in November through Cronus Sports Management Pte. Ltd.
Imam, the Bakries’ trusted lieutenant in the sports, represents the family’s interests in the club, which is 80 percent owned by Thai businessman Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn.
Leicester, which is coached by former England squad manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, is now playing in the Football League Championship — second-highest division in the English football competition system after Premier League.
Nirwan’s eldest son Adika “Aga” Nuraga Bakrie, who is the assistant manager for the national under
23 team, is also active in managing the club, particularly its soccer academy.
In the long run, Leicester is slated to function as one of the training and scouting grounds for national team players.
The Bakries were also behind the international program of grooming future soccer players held recently in Uruguay and previously in Italy and the Netherlands.
However, the national team has won no international trophy since 1991 when it won the SEA Games gold medal.
COMMENT - the story I've been wanting to write. Well, it doesn't go far enough but it's a pretty good piece from an unlikely source, the Post, and one I have overlooked 'cos I never check the thing for football stories.
A read through this, add in some of my comments over the last few months and perhaps my doubts about the LPI come a little clearer.
The reason I've not done something like this before? It needs to be Indonesian I think. There is a danger at times that foreigners, when writing on a subject, can come across as a tad domineering or perhaps even colonial. Plus the overtly political nature of this would have meant way too much research for me!