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Apr 9, 2012

A-League blow as Tinkler quits Jets

The A-League has been thrown into chaos after billionaire owner Nathan Tinkler's Hunter Sports Group announced it is handing back its licence for the Newcastle Jets because of irreconcilable differences with Football Federation Australia.

In a big blow to FFA just days after Gold Coast became the third club to fold in the competition's short history, HSG said it had been forced into the decision after losing confidence in FFA's administration of the game.

FFA thought it had ensured the 10 teams it badly needs for next season as it renegotiates the A-League broadcast rights when it announced it would bankroll a new western Sydney team from 2012/13.

But the Jets' survival now seemingly hinges on FFA's ability to find them a new owner for the second time in less than two years.

The current Jets administration said they had been unable to resolve a variety of issues with FFA, including what they considered an unfairly steep $5 million licence acquisition fee, the ongoing Jason Culina insurance saga and continued requests to address the competition's "unsustainable financial model".

HSG announced their decision at a media conference in Newcastle on Tuesday morning - just hours before the A-League's gala awards night - and chief executive Troy Palmer said in a statement it was a difficult but carefully-considered decision.

"As a keen Jets and football fan this has been a tough decision and I am aware the impact this will have on members, players, coaches, fans and the entire football community," Palmer said.

"I am particularly saddened for members and supporters who have embraced our community model, which has been accepted in so many areas as a successful and unique way to engage the entire community and build the A-League brand.

"It is also frustrating to have invested so much time, energy and money to save the Jets for the community at short notice and then continually hit roadblocks at the FFA.

"It should never be forgotten that when we stepped in to save the club it was insolvent, there were only 500 members, diminishing crowds, minimal community engagement, no merchandise program and negligible corporate support.

"During the 2011/12 season we believe we turned this around to be seen as leaders in all these areas.

"Unfortunately, having lost confidence in the FFA management and its ability to find a resolution, it is clear we have no other option.

"It is about removing ourselves from an administration in which we have an untenable relationship."

Tinker's group stepped in to save the club almost 18 months ago after it was on the verge of folding under former owner Con Constantine and claims it has invested $12 million since taking control.

HSG said its decision would not impact on the Newcastle Knights NRL club, which it also owns.

The company said it would continue to support soccer in the Hunter region by investing invest in a high performance academy to develop young players.

It said would invest $1 million annually to encourage local children to play football and propagate the game in the region.

"This decision by the Hunter Sports Group is not about walking away from football and we will continue to meet and grow our local commitments," Palmer said.

"We will now invest in local junior talent and help reduce the burden on their families.

"We would rather proactively support youth and our local community at the expense of the huge wastage in the A-League."

Football Federation Australia said it was preparing a statement in response to be issued later on Tuesday.

Veteran Jets striker Michael Bridges was stunned by the announcement.

"WOW. Did not see that come," Bridges tweeted. "Devastated for everyone involved at the Jets. Players, employees and fans. #staystrong".

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