It’s been an embarrassing week for the AFL. After the Essendon supplements saga spilled into the courts and the league’s big honchos were exposed as being less than transparent, the final nail in the coffin has to be the inability to move an inch with its ‘property’.
The Victorian government’s bid to bring the coveted International Champions Cup (ICC), which will see the likes of Real Madrid and Olympiakos play on local soil, should have been huge news for the state and its sport crazed citizens, but instead, the story has been spun to look like an affront to the AFL.
God forbid ‘soccer’ takes over the MCG for a match or two, in JULY?! That’s right, not during the grand final countdown, but in the thick of the mid-season where injuries riddle most teams and crowds are at some of their lowest.
Fairfax Media published correspondence this week between the league and the Melbourne Cricket Club in which AFL boss Gillon McLachlan voices his frustrations about the football tournament scheduling.
Premier Denis Napthine has already said that the matches could be integrated with the AFL scheduling, even if two of the games are to be held on Friday nights.
If the Liverpool vs Victory match is any indication of what the power of huge football clubs can do for the state (more than 95,000 people filled the ‘G’ for that match), there should be no problem.
When the AFL was contacted by the media, it hid behind a ‘no comment’ line that pushed the commercial media into a frenzy.
Words like ‘ejected’ and ‘encroaching on the ‘G’ filled the airwaves, completely missing the point of how beneficial it will be to host the ICC matches.
Crowds will most certainly exceed Etihad Stadium’s capacity of 56,000, so there’s no way the AFL can argue the matches should be moved.
Football’s popularity has skyrocketed this year thanks to the World Cup and key special events. The Juventus All Stars match in Sydney on Sunday attracted more than 55,000 and produced millions for NSW’s economy.
The behaviour of the AFL this week shows that it’s getting scared; very scared. It is facing declining crowd numbers, disenchanted fans thanks to the doping scandal, and families finding a day out to the footy is just too expensive.
Football, on the other hand, is deeply embedded in the whole country, not just Victoria. From grassroots clubs all the way to the A-League, pathways are much clearer, and families from all walks of life are welcome.
Only recently has the AFL started to approach a more multicultural fanbase, hoping to cash in on the audience football has had since its inception.
Although the campaign is welcome, showing diversity also needs to be reflected in its player selection. Still only 15 per cent of AFL players come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.
Fear should not be the default reaction to football’s growing popularity. Much can come from coming together, sharing facilities and teaching each other things that one code excels in.