Sports fans need to commit

THE timing of Tasmania's two biggest political footballs has been as exquisite as that of Cyril Rioli's winning goal on Friday night.

In the period between winning the state election and being officially sworn in, Will Hodgman and his all-conquering Liberals had the opportunity to attend both an AFL match and the V8 Supercars in Launceston.

Both topics will be high on the agenda when the party starts planning Tasmania's next four years.

However, it is not just the government which has to decide whether it wants to retain these events, it is the voters as well.

Few Tasmanians sit on the fence when it comes to Aurora Stadium or Symmons Plains, and that is not simply because both are topped with barbed wire.

Neither sport comes cheap, both are financially propped up by Tasmanian taxpayers and there is no doubt some voters would rather see that money spent on health, education or police.

However, having such events available on our doorstep is a wonderful opportunity and as Mr Hodgman said on Saturday: "I want Tasmanians to have access to this sort of thing in our own state and not have to go interstate to see it."

Tasmanians have just voted with their ballot papers, now they need to vote with their feet, because at the moment the numbers willing to support these events is plummeting alarmingly.

When Hawthorn played Brisbane in Launceston 10 days ago, its first game since claiming a premiership, 12,430 came to watch.

In August 2008, when the Hawks hadn't won a flag for 17 years, the same fixture attracted 19,929.

Sunday's crowd at Symmons, on a glorious warm, sunny day, was 19,520. The same event on November 13, 2005, attracted 30,192.

Where have 7500 footy fans and 10,500 revheads suddenly gone?

Unsurprisingly, both national sporting organisations fired up the spinometre, responding by talking up their figures.

Noting that the V8 Supercars crowds "defied current trends from other sports", CEO James Warburton commented: "Tasmanians, and the large number of people who travelled from the mainland, have again voted overwhelmingly for this event."

Meanwhile, the response to the once-unthinkable proposition of a top-flight soccer crowd trumping the only footy match in Melbourne on Saturday was for the AFL to declare the entire round had attracted the third highest attendance figure in AFL history.

This conveniently overlooked the fact that the previous week's opening round had attracted the lowest total crowd in two decades even though it featured an extra game.

There are a multitude of potential explanations for Tasmania's declining crowds, but the biggest worry is that maybe we're all getting complacent.

As Joni Mitchell warned, maybe we'll only realise what we've got once it's gone.

Much needs to be done, and not just to the Symmons Plains toilet, which suffered a water failure, or the Liberal press statement which couldn't spell Symmons Plains.

By coincidence, the day after that 30,192 crowd packed into Symmons, then Premier Paul Lennon announced an extension to the V8 Supercars contract for the next five years.

If the latest state government opts to continue such funding commitments, it needs to know they are wanted, and Tasmania's sports fans are hardly presenting a compelling argument.


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