Tasmania overlooked as AFL heads to China

Uncrowded house: The empty seats at Saturday's Hawthorn-Brisbane match in Launceston were replicated from Sydney to Shanghai. Picture: Paul Scambler
Uncrowded house: The empty seats at Saturday's Hawthorn-Brisbane match in Launceston were replicated from Sydney to Shanghai. Picture: Paul Scambler

How ironic that in this of all weeks, the AFL politburo should be attending a celebration of Tasmanian football.

Notwithstanding the fact that the AFL celebrating Tasmanian football is a bit like cane toads celebrating endemic Australian wildlife, Wednesday night’s function comes at a time when the national body again finds that most irritating of political footballs punted into its forward 50.

Hosted by the newly-formed Tasmanian Football Foundation, the plush function ostensibly sets out to raise money for Tasmanian things the AFL can’t be bothered to finance, like its own team for instance.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and his executive will join such Tassie greats as Matthew Richardson, Alastair Lynch and club coaches Rodney Eade, Chris Fagan and Brendon Bolton, modern stars like Ben Brown, Jack Riewoldt and Grant Birchall and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman.

To paraphrase Basil Fawlty: don’t mention a Tasmanian team, Nick Riewoldt mentioned it once but I think he got away with it.

Demonstrating the sort of timing that has characterised his glorious career, the St Kilda champion chose the week of this function and the AFL hierarchy’s China junket to question why the state of his birth has been treated so badly by the competition that employs him.

What Riewoldt said was nothing that Tasmanian journalists and even some of the braver politicians haven’t been saying for years, it’s just less easy to ignore a 700-goal, six-time club best and fairest, five-time all-Australian, four-time leading goal-kicker, 300-gamer, 2002 Rising Star and a No.1 draft pick.

For example, Riewoldt laid into AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick’s parting shot that Tasmania’s biggest problem was itself.

“To say that the North-South divide is a greater roadblock than what the league faced in setting up the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney is as illogical as it is insulting. It's a slap in the face to footy-loving Tasmanians,” he said.

Three months ago, that Shaw bloke at The Examiner wrote: “Coming from someone whose reign had overseen almost as many sex and drug scandals as a Motley Crue tour of South-East Asia, it was almost as rich as the AFL bank account.”

The AFL celebrating Tasmanian football is a bit like cane toads celebrating endemic Australian wildlife

Similar editorials have been penned, or rather typed, in Burnie and Hobart suggesting a united front in complete contrast to the scenario being conveniently blamed by Fitzpatrick.

To be fair to the AFL, it has got a lot more on its plate at the moment than the unappetising prospect of reheating this old debate.

Through the AFLW and one fixture in China, the sport’s governing body has single-handedly discovered and liberated both one half of mankind and the world’s most populous country.

In the latter it has also redefined the phrase sell-out to mean “to half fill”.

And anyway, why should Tasmania get a team when it can’t even sell out (the original definition) the AFL games it does get?

Rather than discuss the disappointing 10,118 that watched the one-sided affair at Shanghai’s Jiangwan Stadium or the 11,360 for a visit by the competition’s best-supported side to “Greater” Western Sydney, much better to question why only 10,553 turned up in Launceston even though several explanations actually lay the blame with the AFL.

Social media debate has raged around Launceston in the wake of Hawthorn’s third-lowest attendance at UTas Stadium, but among many contributing factors are:

  • Splitting the Tasmanian audience by playing games at both ends of the state;
  • Saturating the market by scheduling four matches in five weeks and then nothing for the next two months;
  • Rostering state footy games in competition with AFL fixtures.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the once-mighty fighting Hawks have been brought back down to earth of late and maybe their supporters need to practice what they sing a bit more and start riding the bumps with a grin.

The Hawks may enjoy trumpeting their record Tasmanian membership, as they did again last week, but the club should also start making sure those supporters actually attend the games.

It is somewhat bizarre to watch the AFL try and conquer the world with a sport played exclusively within one country while simultaneously ignoring the pleas of one of that country’s states.

It does elicit about as much sympathy as for the journos in the UTas pressbox on Saturday who were complaining about getting the Launceston short straw when other colleagues were living it up in Shanghai.

Much more fun to read the AFL Record profile on Hawk James Frawley whose worldwide bucket list of exotic places to visit consists of “South America, Spain and Ballarat”.

All of which, along with China, are better placed to get an AFL team than Tasmania.