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AFL concedes season could be lost to soccer World Cup

  • Monday, December 07 2009 @ 12:10 pm ACDT
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General News

There has been growing disquiet amongst Australia's AFL clubs as details trickle out regarding the country's bid for the 2018 or 2022 soccer World Cups. Because soccer generates little revenue in Australia, few large stadia are built for the round ball code - this means it needs the venues of other sports to stage the Cup. The major sporting codes have generally backed the plan, in principle, because the real politik of the situation is that the Federal Government wants the tournament as do many Australians. Despite Association Football being the major long term threat to Australian football Down Under, to run interference would be to alienate many Aussies and lose a strong supporter in the national Government. Potential stadia upgrades are another spinoff that could be lost.

However, details of exactly what the AFL will have to give up seem to be becoming more and more dramatic by the week. Soccer's governing body in Australia, the FFA, has made it clear that they want the MCG and major stadia in the other capitals. FIFA rules also apparently prevent other codes playing their matches in the same cities for the duration of the tournament. It seemed the AFL was prepared to accept all that to be seen to be playing nice, provided adequate compensation was provided. But now there are reports the whole AFL season could be in jeopardy.

Rumours emerged that the MCG, the key to the profitability of many Victorian clubs, would be unavailable some time before and after the World Cup. The Herald Sun has now revealed that the timeframe may in fact be 16 weeks, right through the middle of the AFL season, with massive stands errected to suit a rectangular configuration. One also has to question whether the field would recover that year - surely the entire surface would need to be dug up, levelled and re-laid. The AFL's only other ground with reasonable capacity in Melbourne, Etihad Stadium, has also been earmarked, but being privately owned and presumably eyeing off an AFL windfall, is reportedly resisting FFA overtures to host World Cup matches. In a bizarre suggestion sounding more like a Communist state, it has been said that "the FFA believes it has the option of seeking government intervention to seize temporary control of the privately owned stadium".

Responding on radio to the report AFL fuming over soccer World Cup demands to shut down MCG, AFL boss Andrew Demetriou conceded that an entire season could be under threat, and it is the lack of information from the FFA and FIFA that perturbs the AFL most. The lost revenue would threaten the survival of several clubs. While this can be seen as jockeying for compensation, the reality is that the AFL turns over 100s of millions of dollars per year, and without its main venue for a whole season, and its second choice for part of the year, and some of its other major venues in other states in use, the League faces the real prospect of running a very short season or cancelling it. The lost sponsorship and membership would likely set the League back irreparably and is not an option. Most corporate deals require minimum numbers of games and therefore TV and crowd exposure. Members sign up year in and year out - to lose them for a year almost guarantees that not all will return.

Demetriou has also been interviewed on ABC radio, and stated that "The various options and scenarios obviously revolve around either a suspension of the season and then to resume, or it could even mean not having a season. That is something that we just couldn't entertain".

The only reasonable outcome would seem to be for FIFA to make concessions, something they aren't likely to contemplate when there are so many other countries bidding. Consider that AFL clubs turn over around $30 million each per year. The only alternative that would repair the severe damage to Australia's number one football code would be compensation of the order of $200 million (more if a whole season was lost). Of course soccer fans' attempts to "woo" the AFL largely involve abusive posts on forums suggesting the AFL get out of the way of "real football". It looks like the battle lines are being drawn and only buckets of money will keep this on track.