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.
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).