The World Game….really?

Jock: You did some nice things last week. Not one of your best games but you did some nice things. Glorious mark you took in the second quarter. You just seemed to go up and up.

Geoff: I felt like Achilles.

Jock: Who’s he?

Geoff: A Greek guy who could really jump.

Jock: [nods] Some of our new Australians could be champions if they’d stop playing soccer and assimilate.

The Club, Act 1. David Williamson – 1977

It is not everyday that I get an unsolicited tweet response from a newspaper editor (as I am sure they have more pressing things than reading and responding to my tweets) but I am always chuffed when it happens. I got one yesterday from Andrew Tate, editor of the Sport section of the Sunday Age in response of my questioning of two articles in the paper.

One was titled ‘The World Game‘ and was about introducing Australian Rules overseas.   The other was about exporting the game to China.

Other tweeters like Athas Zafiris picked up on the story.


Then Ezequiel Trumper continued:

Even Michael Lynch, who writes for the Sunday Age got into the fray.

The fact that the article was titled ‘The World Game’ was a probably a bit of a light hearted reference that that term is used when we talk about Association Football.  Interesting considering that some Aussie Football fans get a bit agitated when we use ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’. But this is a minor point really.

The article in question then quotes the AFL’s international development manager Tony Woods:

There is almost a paradox that we all share in the belief that it is the best game in the world and most spectacular, yet sometimes we are a little bit slow in opening our arms to letting other people play it.

I would not berate Mr. Woods stating that Aussie Rules is ‘the best game in the world and most spectacular’, but I don’t know if everyone in the world would share his belief.  In my opinion there is no ‘best game in the world’.  I say that to Association Football fans as well if they say soccer is the best game.
I remember when I went to Italy and as a Blues fans I asked a friend to send me a tape of one of the finals that I missed.  It was a great game as those Carlton-Essendon finals in the 90’s were. Close contests, athletic and skillful.  However when I showed the tape to my Italian friends, who were into soccer and basketball, they were unimpressed. All they could see were bodies clashing with each other and they laughed when players were scrambling for the ball on the ground, they found it messy and chaotic.
Maybe the AFL realises that it missed the boat with the more recent Asian immigration and it is now trying to make connections, which is good strategy – for Australia – but I fail to understand why we see in the media pieces about the AFL ‘going overseas’ what’s the point?
Despite Australian Rules being by far the most popular code in Australia it seems to be irked by the fact that they don’t have international status.  The comments of Mr. Woods seems to betray this fact. And the regular ‘Soccer is not really an Australian game’ that tend to appear before the World Cup tend to confirm this, Examples here and here ) which really I can’t understand.
And the mindset of the ever conquering AFL is shown in this statement:

“At junior and grassroots level kids are really looking for an alternative to rugby. That has basically allowed soccer in New Zealand to get a foothold.”

Apart from the fact that soccer was ‘allowed’ a foothold (heavens forbid) what escaped may have Mr. Woods, but more importantly the journalist Jared Lynch,  is that  in New Zealand soccer was there yonks before any kiwis even knew the existence of the Aussie game.  As Ian Syson states in a tweet:

Maybe the fact that a New Zealand team was able to represent (very honourably) their nation in the most popular sport event in the world (something that Aussie Rules can’t do) in South Africa may also have something to do with it.

Anyway, this banter must have attracted the attention of the Sunday Age Sports editor who tweeted:

I didn’t respond to this, because discussing issues on tweeter with a 140 character limit is very difficult. The article Andrew refers is about Lucas Neil and his perfect footballer. Which was interesting enough, but I think he missed the point.   One is a ‘AFL is the best thing ever’ story, while the other is about Neil idea of the perfect footballer.  They are not the same.  And again I have no problem with the article in itself.  The issue I have is that we hardly have any pieces which place soccer/football in the same cultural level.  Have we read about soccer/football importance in Australia’s history?  or that soccer/football has been part and parcel of Australia’s sport landscape long before post war migration?  And it doesn’t stop there.  On Saturday we learned that apparently AFL is going to solve the Israel  – Palestinian conflict. The power of the AFL knows no bounds.

What these articles show is not only the fact that the AFL, despite its hegemony in the mainstream media is strangely feeling anxious of not been international, but also ignores the fact that soccer/football is the international sport par excellence and the fact that the media, in general, doesn’t give it much credit.  Football doesn’t need to push to become international. It’s already there.  The worldwide audience for the recent Australia – Japan match dwarfed anything that the AFL or NRL could achieve, and Adelaide United is in the quarter finals of the Asian Champions League.  We don’t read much about that, and how that promotes the image of Australia overseas. And sorry, but playing in one of the major FIFA tournaments is a bit  more significant than a few kids playing footy in a paddock somewhere in China or India, in a sport that despite being a great game – will be probably as popular as lacrosse is here in Australia.  As an example we only have to read the FFA ‘s  submission to the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. That is the reality of the game.

And by the way.  It may have escaped the editors of the Sunday Age, but in the picture of the article the kids are playing with the footy are wearing  AC Milan, Tibet National Football Team and Chelsea shirts.  World Game indeed.


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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The World Game….really?

  1. Interesting that he uses the phrase “your game”. How would he describe footy, “our game”? Bet you he would.

  2. Not sure why everyone’s getting all uppity about this article, It didn’t disparage our game and the AFL has every right to try to spead their wings OS if that’s what they want to do. The Melbourne papers are crammed with AFL puff pieces every single day, even in the off season, and that’s because it’s what people want to read.

    When Tony Woods said ‘we all share in the belief that it is the best game in the world’, the ‘we’ refers to the AFL community, not the entire planet, and they’re welcome to believe that if they want, Same goes for us and fans of both rugby codes. But I agree, it’s a silly and pointless argument.

    The part where he says the AFL ‘allowed’ soccer to gain a foothold in NZ, doesn’t mean they gave them permission as you seem to think. It just means the AFL did nothing to promote the game in NZ, which ‘allowed’ soccer to gain in popularity as the country’s second sport without much competition. Australian Rules was played extensively in NZ before WW1, with a NZ team playing in the national state carnivals around that time, so it does have a history there.

    You could also say that the FFA has ‘allowed’ the AFL to gain a stronger foothold in the Gold Coast and Western Sydney due to poor decision making in the past. And sadly you’d be right.

    Look, there are plenty of articles with an anti-soccer bent on a regular basis in most papers, I just don’t think this is one of them. Instead of carrying on hysterically about a percieved unfairness we can just accept that our game isn’t the most popular in Australia at the moment and do what we can to get more people into it.

    • Fair comment Trent. I was trying not to write the post as a ‘Aussie AFL against soccer’ type article. As I said in the post I am a AFL fan as well and also I don’t bemoan the AFL spreading their wings as you say. What I was trying to state is that while soccer has been provided an international links since it started in Australia in the late 1800’s, Australian Rules reveled in its unique Australianness, but now that the global picture has changed the AFL is trying to jump on board, and we read these pieces saying how wonderful it is and how great etc. etc. while soccer, that has done these sort of things for yonks, tends to be ignored. What I also maybe failed to highlight is that Wood’s comments come in from a superiority position (we are the best game in the world) while instead soccer doesn’t do that. Betraying some insecurity that I really can’t understand – because as I think I said in the article and you also say, AFL is the most popular game in Australia, so why this need to go international?. And I think it is important to highlight that.

      • I don’t agree that soccer people don’t do the ‘we’re the best’ type comments. On the contrary, we hear them all the time on SBS. Woods comments as someone confident their game is the best – as might Les Murray or Craig Foster. It’s only a position of superiority because you feel inferior about soccer’s position in Australia. I’m not threatened by it. I’ve heard rugby commentators say the same thing about their game as well.

        I don’t know what you mean about soccer always providing an international link yet being ignored. It’s an international game already and clearly the most popular in the world. An article on the local game going international is far more newsworthy than soccer doing what it’s always done. The paper isn’t required to offer a soccer article to ‘balance’ the AFL one. Should it do the same for rugby?

        I grew up mad for Aussie Rules but lost interest after my team was killed off (Fitzroy – remember them?). Still like watching AFL as it is an amazing spectacle, but I’m now a mad Victory supporter and don’t miss a game. Maybe this is why I don’t feel the inferiority thing about the game in Australia and why the articles drew a blank with me.

  3. Alex

    Hi Guido,

    For one of the points of “going overseas”, have a look at the following clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejVQSRncRcc (Disclaimer: I’m in the clip. Note: None of the players were Australian. From memory there was one New Zealander.)

    Particularly around the 40s mark. “I mean, this is a Welsh jersey and this is the proudest day of my life”.

    Ok, it isn’t soccer or rugby (the two biggest sports in Wales), but these guys were taking it seriously. They were having fun with it, but it wasn’t just a “muck around for a couple of hours thing”. And even at club level, the guys braved some horrendous conditions for training.

    That’s how it starts. If it gains in popularity and provides another option, great. If it comes in without the baggage that existing competitions may have (see, for example, the top of the Scottish Premier League. For that matter, there is a reason why soccer was relaunched in Australia as 1 team per city), even better. And if it gets people participating in a sport where they otherwise wouldn’t be, fantastic (although the reporter obviously didn’t think enough of my “a bit of fun and a bit of fitness” line to include it).

    Besides, let’s face it, the AFL’s international development manager is just doing what he’s paid to do (although we could have done with a bit of support from them in Wales).

    And in answer to Michael Lynch, they should tilt at any windmill they think is worthwhile. As long as they think the development is worhtwhile, and they have the funds, why not?

  4. Alex, It’s great they were taking playing for Wales seriously. Representing a community is a badge of honour in any field of endeavour. What many of us hysterical socceristas are simply asking is that soccer be taken seriously in Victoria. Why have footy puff-peces when local soccer gets no mention? Do you realise that over 50,000 people play soccer in Victoria in winter and the Age point blank refuses to cover any of that activity? If there were 50,000 Aussie rules players in Wales do you reckon it might get a decent mention in the media there? I reckon it might well be the national sport!!

  5. Alex

    Ian,

    The first question asked of me on the day was “As an Australian, do you appreciate how important a Wales-England match is to Wales?” So to answer your question – it would get a mention as long as they were playing England.

    Here’s a question back to you (but first a statement). I had read both the “puff-pieces” Guido pointed to before reading his blog. Being a long way from home, I read most footy things I can. Do you make a decision to buy/not buy the Age on the basis of soccer articles? Do you avoid looking at the Age website because of the paucity of said articles?

    Unless the answer to at least one those questions is yes, why would you expect a commercial organisation to serve your market?

  6. I don’t buy the Age and I rarely look at its on-line version. During the cricket season I get the Sunday Age to look at the club cricket scores, I would buy the Age if it had as much local soccer coverage as the Hobart Mercury does.

    Though I’m not sure why you ask that.

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