The AFL shows its true colours

The Association Football vs Australian Rules Football war about the World cup bid is certainly hotting up, at least here in Victoria.

Yesterday we had the Herald Sun front page trumpeting the fact that ‘Soccer caves in to footy people power’. Today in the front page of The Age, we have a story which claims that Australia’s bid for the soccer World Cup is in danger of being derailed after AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou declared Etihad Stadium off limits.

Front Page of The Age 9/12/09

As usual in these things there is lots of heat an little light. Apart from the moronic take of the Herald-Sun, there has been more rational debate in some quarters. One such article was again in today’s Age by Dan Silkstone.

Parts of his article:

Demetriou and Buckley are close. They played together at North Melbourne, they worked side by side at the AFL. Buckley was best man when Demetriou married and sent a congratulatory text message to the AFL chief executive three weeks ago when his child was born.

When Buckley is in Melbourne he almost always catches up with his friend and former boss. They speak on the phone often.

That is what makes the central claim of this week’s storm – that the AFL and its clubs have not been properly consulted about what is needed for the bid – so hard to accept.

For Demetriou, frustration has been growing about the vagueness of the FFA’s requirements and the poor level of communication. The AFL feels disrespected and Demetriou does not like it.

The league’s clubs, rightly, want to know how this World Cup bid might affect them. The FFA’s bid team cannot yet answer those questions. The FFA says it has kept other codes fully informed of the complex venue situation, which continues to unfold. ”They have known everything we knew as soon as we knew it,” Buckley said yesterday.

The AFL says bid leaders have spent more time travelling the world, schmoozing FIFA delegates and foreign journalists than talking to codes and stadiums in their own country. The FFA responded by releasing details from Buckley’s diary that show he met the AFL 14 times since last April to discuss the bid………

The MCG won’t be out of action for 16 weeks as Demetriou suggested but the AFL is deeply suspicious of the four to six-week timeframe the FFA says it needs. One insider yesterday called it ”complete bullshit”. All in all, though, the league would cop a 10-week loss of the MCG without too much complaint. The real issue, and the real battleground, is Etihad Stadium…….

Demetriou says not: ”This is not the AFL beating up on soccer or being unsupportive of the World Cup. We’ve got a great track record with Olympics and Commonwealth Games.”

But soccer hits Australian rules as a direct competitor much harder than the Commonwealth Games or Olympics. Imagine the impact of a winning Australian bid. Eight to 10 years of media attention, an almost irresistible carrot for juniors to take up the sport. A boost for soccer at the very time the AFL is hoping to sell its media rights for a princely $1 billion.

A rival sport continuing to tread the corridors of power while politicians, corporate Australia and junior participants queue up to get involved.

Who wouldn’t protect themselves from that?

I always am wary of the easy tempation of falling into the paranoid ‘the AFL is plotting to get us’ type of argument. But reading above (and Dan Silkstone is not a solely a football writer) I am sort of wondering why Andrew Demetriou has gone all guns blaring about this. He could have approached Buckley privately and make his views known. And it seems that Buckley has tried to keep the AFL up to date about the bid. There is a possibility that the FFA is also not yet sure about the details.

I think that the AFL has every right to protect its product and make sure that they are not disadvantaged in the eventuality (which has to be recognised it is still pretty remote) that Australia does have a World Cup. However this public outburst seems to me gives credit to the Silkstone’s view in his conclusion. That the AFL basically doesn’t want the World Cup, and this is a Howard style wolf whistle strategy to scuttle the bid.

While the AFL makes all the right noises about the ‘AFL not beating up on soccer or being unsupportive of the World Cup’ it unleashes a sentiment about ‘us and them’ that I discussed in my previous post. Who is to say that any of this dissent may sway some FIFA delegate? Or that maybe the new Federal Opposition may not be as enthusiastic about the bid as Malcolm Turnbull was when he was leader?

The ‘Us and Them’ is a well worn card. Demetriou went on radio uttering hyperboles such as that some AFL clubs would not survive due to the AFL season being cancelled due to the unavailability of the MCG and similar venues for 16 weeks, when as we can see from Silkstone’s article this is a furphy.

FFA chief executive Ben Buckley moved quickly to refute Demetriou’s remarks, stating that stadiums like the MCG would be required for up to eight weeks. That’s significantly fewer than 16. This type of scaremongering is nothing new from the AFL, or its mates in the press. As Warwick Hadfield said in the sport segment of this morning’s Radio National Breakfast

What we are really seeing here is just how cosy the relationship between the sport media and the AFL and the NRL is to get all these beat ups on the front pages and how far down the pecking order soccer writers really are in major newspapers. There are quite sensible comment pieces in the last few days and they can be found somewhere near the racing details.

Buckley looked frustrated in that media conference. Welcome to our world Ben.

Update: Ben Buckley letter to all football supporters about the bid (the ad banners on top of the page are because I loaded the page on a free site host – they are not from the FFA).


Filed under Football, Politics and Current Affairs

4 responses to “The AFL shows its true colours

  1. Alex

    To be completely, brutally honest, I can’t understand why any of the other codes are being accommodating at all. The only organisations that treat their customers with the contempt required to say, “sorry, you can’t have normal service for 4-10 weeks” are banks and telcos.

    I can just imagine the response if, say rugby union was to ask the FA in England to not play the premier league for that length of time.

    While we’re at it, I can’t understand why the Government wants to spend vast sums on it. (Don’t get me wrong – I also think hosting the Olympics is dumb, too – this isn’t an anti-soccer thing. Actually, I think Melbourne should get rid of the grand prix, too). More than that, I can’t understand how a Government can ethically support one organisation mandating that its competitors can engage in their normal activities.

    On the other hand, it is nice to show up more on the left hand side of your left/right divide for once. You must admit, this is the sort of behaviour seen by the McDonald’s and Tescos of the world. And it is only being considered because of their global economic muscle.

    As far as lies, disinformation and propaganda go, I wouldn’t be betting on either soccer or AFL being pure in their dealings with the media or each other. I’m also certain that Buckley and Demetriou are professional enough to accept that each of them are working in their organisation’s best interests and separate their personal relationship from their professional.

  2. I agree that the AFL/NRL have every right to protect their sport (as I stated in my post).

    However I also wonder whether it is fair to scuttle a World Cup bid thus depriving a lot of people of an event which will give plenty of enjoyment.

    If they really wanted to help bring the World Cup to Australia, we wouldn’t hear a peep out of them.

    If they had any concerns about match fixtures, stadium availability, expenditure, it can all be settled in gentleman’s fashion – in a sporting manner – with a phone call, over lunch, or for tricky problems, at a meeting hosted by the Government in Canberra.

    But is all happening with a megaphone in the media.

  3. Alex

    Let’s face it Guido, the whole thing is a problem because FIFA wants to assert dominance. It is quite reasonable for FFA to say “we want the World Cup”. It is quite reasonable for the AFL to say “we want to play our season”. It is unreasonable for FIFA to say to the FFA you can only host it if the AFL doesn’t play a significant chunk of their season.

    If FIFA wants the World Cup in Australia, the AFL wouldn’t be able to scupper it.

  4. Michael

    And the fullness of time has illustrated a couple of things.
    Firstly – FIFA are far more flexible around their hosting rules than we ever could have imagined (Qatar). So – gee, the AFL and NRL had nothing to worry about – the WC could’ve been played out of season and only annoyed the crap out of cricket, the A-League itself, perhaps tennis, the nags and the F1s.
    Secondly – had the AFL been waiting for stadiums to be built for the 2022 tournament so as to gain some of that oh so great benefit – – sheesh – – does that mean the AFL would still be waiting on Adelaide Oval, new Perth stadium, Gold Coast and the Sydney Showgrounds?? A lot of pro-WC advocates quoted this as the great benefit of the AFL but, and I asserted at the time – the AFL tends to get these things done (largely because it invests its own money to get projects going and also because quite simply it is a crowd generator).
    At the time in late 2009 the bid was a bad bid. The notion of a bid wasn’t bad – but Lowy was desperate to get the AFL bulldozed in Melbourne. He had the MCG – didn’t need Etihad and was even offered Geelong but he was determined to ‘score points’ over the AFL with Govt on his side. But that fell through.

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