AFL neglect of Tasmania nothing new

Sun stroke: Gary Ablett and his Gold Coast team leave York Park after being thrashed by Hawthorn in 2016. Picture: Scott Gelston.
Sun stroke: Gary Ablett and his Gold Coast team leave York Park after being thrashed by Hawthorn in 2016. Picture: Scott Gelston.

Tasmania being told it cannot have its own AFL team is like a rich parent telling its oldest offspring it can't have a car even though the hastily-conceived and badly-behaved younger sibling was given a Ferrari before the little upstart even knew how to drive.

Inevitably, aforementioned younger sibling drove said Ferrari into the ground, forcing it to be recalled by its manufacturer in Geelong, while oldest offspring looks on in disbelief and resignation.

This state's treatment by the Mainland Football League has been, at best, patronising and, at worst, negligent.

After years of being told to pay for its own AFL team, Tasmania learns that the national body is pumping up to $25 million a year into the doomed Gold Coast disaster.

This was revealed in a splendid analysis by the Financial Review but was nothing assorted Tasmanian journalists haven’t been saying for years.

It’s just a shame it took the demise of Burnie and Devonport’s State League teams to bring the issue onto the national radar.

The backlash to this week’s developments has been interesting to behold, not least because it prompted the question: had nobody outside Tasmania noticed the negligence before?

Almost simultaneously last week:

* the Financial Review reported the extent of the AFL’s annual Gold Coast rescue package;

* Burnie joined Devonport in leaving the TSL; and

* AFL CEO Gillion McLachlan preferred to be photographed with assorted acrobats and carnival dancers at the launch of AFLX, whatever that is, than have to deal with either of the above.

It was the perfect storm to drum up outrage about Tasmania’s mistreatment.

Talented Tassie products like Brad Green, Russell Robertson, Mitch Robinson, Rodney Eade and Chris Fagan all expressed exasperation while Tasmanian tourism advocate Luke Martin Tweeted: “@afl investment in #tasmania in 2017 = $2 million, @afl investment in @GoldCoastSUNS in 2017 = $25 million”.

The umbilical link between Tasmanian neglect and Gold Coast investment was a familiar theme, not least from Eade who found himself in the paradoxical position of coaching the team that was chosen ahead of his home state.

The AFL’s golden child has been provided with a new stadium, the league's best player, draft incentives and access to Australia's fastest growing potential supporter base while its problem child was left to play in its own room.

As basketball, soccer, baseball and both rugby codes have discovered, the Gold Coast is not just where pensioners and Kiwis go to live, but where sporting franchises go to die.

Shakespeare had it right when he noted that “All that glisters is not Gold Coast” (although an error in the publishing process saw the word Coast omitted in final versions of The Merchant of Venice*).

This was why so many Tasmanians were keen to see the Hobart Hurricanes triumph in the Big Bash League final because, with football, soccer, basketball and pretty much every other sport reluctant to give the state a place at the national table, cricket provides a rare opportunity to claim an Australian title.

All the while the Suns are failing and the AFL is investing heavily in a national women's competition and bizarre new hybrid versions of the game (or as Melbourne journalist Greg Baum put it beautifully “AFLW, AFLX, AFL why? and AFL zzzz”), Tasmanian footy is in crisis.

But none of this is new. The AFL has long treated Tasmania about as well as Tasmania treated thylacines. 

In April 2009, assorted stakeholders gathered at York Park to announce contributions to the stadium’s latest $7 million redevelopment.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese started the ball rolling by handing over $4 million before representatives of state government, Launceston City Council and Hawthorn joined in the whip round.

Gillon McLachlan, then chief operating officer of the AFL, was also there. He posed for pictures.

Stating that Tasmania has always been a priority for the AFL, McLachlan declined to put a figure on the AFL’s input but said: ‘‘We will be making a contribution like we always do.’’ 

Three months later, Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett revealed that Sports Minister Michelle O'Byrne had talked McLachlan out of announcing a figure of $200,000 because he would be “laughed out of town" had he done so.

Four months later the AFL finally announced a contribution of … $200,000.

By this time, Hawthorn had stumped up $300,000 to get the project started after an exasperated Kennett said he was fed up of waiting.

“This is part of the blindness of the AFL in not appreciating how strongly Tasmanians feel about the AFL,” Kennett told The Examiner. Never one for sitting on the fence our Jeff.

“They are drowning in money and they just need to give Tasmania a bigger slice of the cake.”

Actually, the rich parent/forgotten child analogy is not strictly accurate as Victorians tend to forget that Melbourne was founded by a Launcestonian, so technically is a Tasmanian offshoot.

But 183 years after John Batman (243 goals in a seven-year career as a centre-half forward with North Launceston*) made that venture, the settlement he originally called Batmania treats its founder like a grumpy old relative in need of age care.

  • * facts invented for comedy purposes