The AFL has secured a shirtload of cash and now everyone wants a piece of the action. The players want a pay rise, clubs are screaming poor and the frontier teams will need bankrolling. But there’s a missing voice in the dash for cash: grass roots football.
The monolithic rise of the AFL in the last twenty years has come at a cost. The new AFL clubs in WA and SA have caused their leagues to haemorrhage. The VFL (formerly the VFA) has become a poor-man’s reserves comp, all but losing its proud and unique identity in the Melbourne football landscape.
And the systematic decline of regional Australia, combined with a crippling drought, has decimated country football. Times are tough.
AFL players and clubs could use this perspective.
While the AFL clubs have a right to demand compensation for inherent inequities – stadium deals and fixturing – they do not have any real claim on increased AFL funding.
AFL clubs have access to national audiences every week. They must stand on their own two feet through membership, sponsorship and gate receipts. Poor management must have a cost.
And the players need to get a grip. They must justify to the AFL, and to me – the passionate fan – why they deserve more money.
There’s good reason why they’re currently paid a lot – they have short careers, their lives are forfeited to football, and the AFL must be able to compete for athletes. But I’m yet to hear a reason why they should be paid more.
Andrew Demetriou is right to be angry at the AFL PA’s demand for a fixed percentage of revenue. Just because there’s more money available does not mean they are entitled to it.
So while the AFL remain on a warpath on the frontiers – western Sydney, women, South Africa – and every man and his dog puts his hand out for a piece of the action, let’s all take a deep breath and take a look at what really matters.
The AFL’s great strength has come from its base; the bottom of the pyramid. The football leagues of the heartland states have provided generations of VFL/AFL players, and passionate footballing communities who cherish and preserve our great game.
For the AFL to remain strong, it must protect and grow its base. The heartland is bleeding, and the AFL has an armoury to fight it.
Have the players already forgotten where they came from?